My Attempt at Community Building Reaches an Impasse

Today is the second anniversary of the Pagan and Heathen Meetup I started, and the good news is it seems to finally be reaching a critical mass where I actually have a “core” group of people showing up more than once, instead of a constantly revolving door of people who only show up once and I never see them again.

We meet the second Friday of the month in a local coffee shop. At our last meeting we had over a dozen people, so we had to push together three tables in there to make enough room. We had some new people, but for once it looked like we had more people who had been there before than newbies. We didn’t have to spend most of our time on introductions. I ended up sitting next to a guy who has been to a lot of meetings before, and he asked me the dreaded question, “Where do you think this group should go from here?”

I couldn’t really answer that question. Of course, when I first started the Meetup I had ideas, but then I actually started the Meetup and discovered a lot of those ideas probably weren’t realistic. I decided to give it at least a year, and the first year I lowered my goals down to, “just have people show up,” and that was pretty much it.

But now people are actually showing up and starting to ask, “Well, hanging out at a coffee shop socializing is fun, but what else have you got?” They’re starting to mention words like “structure” and “rituals” and “workshops”.

 

Well, there are some obstacles that we have to overcome first. And the biggest one seems to be not having a good place to meet to do anything else other than socialize.

The coffee shop where we meet is loud and sometimes crowded. They usually have music playing that we have to raise our voices to be heard over (last night seemed to be a compilation of all the hits of the 80’s). Since we’re near a university, if school is in session there are a lot of college students there hanging out. They have some outdoor seating which can be quieter because of lack of music, but last night it was too chilly for people to want to sit out there. When the weather is nice, outside is often just as crowded as inside.

The only other place we’ve ever met is a local park. Last Ostara I posted a potluck picnic there, and only one (kinda creepy) guy showed up. That wasn’t fun at all. However, this past Imbolc, I scheduled a hike at that same park, and six of my regulars showed up, and we had a good time. We just hiked, though. We didn’t do anything especially pagan-ish except when one of the members left an apple as an offering for the land spirits. That hike was mostly to scope out the place to see if there were any places we could go where it would be private enough to have a full-blown ritual at a later time.

We have some beautiful parks here, but just like the coffee shop, there’s no privacy. On the Imbolc hike I tried leading them to this place I thought was pretty remote, and we still passed by a few joggers out on the trails. It might depend on when you go, but I have a full time job, like many of my members, so the only meeting times that would work for me are evenings and weekends, which is when everyone else is at the parks too.

I’ll probably try again this year to do an Ostara picnic and see if more people show up, but that brings me to another problem with meeting at parks. This is Texas. From Beltane to the Autumn Equinox, it’s just too hot for anyone to want to be outside much. Ostara is pretty much our last chance to be outside in nice weather. It’s cooler at night, and it would be nice to do some full moon rituals out there, but our parks have a sunset curfew, so if the cops see cars parked in the parking lot, they’ll go in and kick us out.

When I was a member of my college student pagan group, we got to reserve a classroom in the evening all to ourselves. Then we could have privacy indoors to do rituals or discussions. But now as adults with jobs and families and so on, there just isn’t anywhere like that.

 

This is what I think about whenever the subject of pagan temples comes up. This would be so much easier if we had a building, or even just a room, that we could meet in where we could close the door and not have college students or joggers showing up and wondering what’s going on over there. It would be doubly awesome if it was our building, where we could leave stuff there permanently.

Critics of the idea say that historically temples weren’t meeting spaces for humans anyway, but only homes for the gods, that the traditional place of worship for polytheists is the home, and that what we’re really talking about are “community centers” not temples (as if there’s something wrong with a community center), and even that we’re really trying to re-create a Protestant Christian churchgoing experience out of some kind of nostalgia (um, I should remind you that I’ve never been a Christian in my life).

Look, times are different now. There aren’t any “wild places” you can go and be completely isolated. My choices for “wild places” are city parks or state parks that are open to the general public and full of joggers and people walking their dogs.

As for using my home, I have considered that, but given the occasional creepy dude that shows up to our Meetups, I really don’t feel like posting my home address on the internet for everyone to see (or even just the membership to see). I know some Meetup organizers do that, and that’s their choice, but I’d like people to respect my choice to keep my home secure and private and not open to the general public.

Maybe that stuff worked out thousands of years ago, when people lived in small villages and everyone knew everyone else, and everyone was pagan, and there actually was true “wilderness” left out there, but “doing it the way our ancestors did” just doesn’t work today.

Another option I’ve considered is to just privately invite certain members that seem trustworthy or at least not creepy to my home for rituals, but then we can’t have newbies participate, and I think they should be able to show up and see what a pagan ritual really is all about. Also, the people I didn’t invite would probably find out about it eventually, and might get pissed off and feel left out, like we’re forming some kind of clique.

In a nearby city, their pagan Meetup meets in the back room of a metaphysical store. That seems to be a good place, but we don’t have anything like that here. John Beckett’s group meets at a UU Church, but the UU church in my town doesn’t have their own building either and borrows a Christian church, and they don’t even seem very pagan friendly (I know, I tried going there a bit, and they gave me weird looks when I told them I was a pagan).

Of course, since I’m barely sustaining a Meetup group as it is, we really don’t have a group that would be dedicated enough to create an actual pagan temple/community center here, but I think that results in a kind of chicken-and-egg thing, because since we don’t have a good place to meet, it’s hard to build a dedicated group that can do more than just hang out at a coffee shop talking about the latest good movie we saw.

 

Anyway, that’s why I think modern temples are a good idea, but the reality still stands that there’s no way we’re going to have one here, so I’m still left with the question: What next for this group? I’m getting asked that more and more, and I still don’t have a good answer.

Is it spring yet?

That’s the question that seems to be the underlying theme of all the pagan February holidays I know about: Imbolg, Candlemas, Charming of the Plow, Groundhog’s Day. It’s an important question. Here in Central Texas, February can bring sunny weather with temperatures pushing 80 degrees, or a sudden cold front that brings ice and even sleet or snow.

You have to be very careful to not be fooled by the warmer days and go ahead and plant your frost-sensitive plants, only to have them killed by a sudden late February or early March freeze. Then again, sometimes that late freeze never comes. Sometimes our true last freeze of the winter really is in January. This weekend it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 70’s, even though the last couple of nights have been getting down to 34. I haven’t done a Charming of the Plow ritual yet, since last weekend was cold and rainy, so I’ll probably do that this weekend. I have a nice bottle of mead I got from a home-brewing friend at Yule that will make a nice offering. I also made an absolutely delicious Meyer lemon cake from a couple of lemons off the tree in our front yard. I always like to include homegrown stuff in holiday feasts and offerings. My husband and I had a few slices ourselves already and it’s so good I had to hide the rest to make sure some was left for the gods and spirits.

My husband and I are still trying to figure out what would be an appropriate animal to substitute for the groundhog as a symbol of this time of year. It doesn’t get cold enough around here for any mammals to hibernate. The best we’ve been able to think of so far are the frogs and toads. They do hibernate, and last week when we had another warm spell, I finally heard some croaking again when I got home from work. The sound was coming from a stock tank in a nearby ranch.

Frog’s Day instead of Groundhog’s Day? Would that work?

My Interest in Urglaawe Grows

Groundhog Day is coming up, and while most Americans think it’s quite silly, it’s a major holiday in Urglaawe, and as you can see from my several posts last February, has become one for me as well. Urglaawe seems more and more appealing to me the more research I do on it. It seems like that branch of Heathenry is more compatible with my temperament and lifestyle than Viking-based Asatru.

Viking Raiders vs. Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers

The biggest issue I’ve had with Asatru from the very beginning has been the huge emphasis on warriors. Now, I don’t mean to disparage people who are actually in the military. My husband was in the Air Force, my dad was in the Navy, and my grandfather fought in World War II. A lot of my students are veterans, and they are usually my best students. But since I’ve never been in the military and never will be, I’ve never been able to relate to the whole warrior experience, and am not going to pretend to. So it’s hard to me to relate to Asatru as a “warrior religion” as if that’s all there is to life. The main gods in Viking-based Asatru are Odin and Thor in their most warlike aspects, since they get their stories from the Norse Eddas and Sagas. There is much less information in the Eddas on the goddesses or the Vanir gods.

Urglaawe, however, is the religion of an agricultural people, so they have a bigger emphasis on the more “peaceful” deities. Frau Holle, a motherly goddess, is their chief deity. Even Odin and Thor have slightly different “personalities” to them in Urglaawe. I worship Odin as a magical and intellectual god, and hardly ever interact with his warrior side. Thor is primarily a weather deity who brings life-giving thunderstorms to my often drought-stricken area, and he’s also the defender of those weaker than himself. From what I’ve read of Urglaawe, that’s close to how they see Wudan and Dunner.

I’ve also been wondering if I find Urglaawe more comfortable simply because the Pennsylvania Dutch are closer to me in space and in time than the Vikings. The Vikings lived far away in Scandinavia over a thousand years ago. I know them through that show on the History Channel and movies like The 13th Warrior. The Pennsylvania Dutch immigrated to the United States just a little over 200 years ago, and there are still lots of them around today. They also had a big impact on American culture. Many of our holiday traditions come from them, as well as a lot of traditional American foods. Scandinavian traditions and foods are much different and just seem a bit more “foreign” to me.

Also, once they got here, they changed and adapted to the local environment, becoming a truly “New World” version of Heathenry, which I think is great. To me, so many Heathens seem to be trying to play Viking rather than adapting Heathenry to the time and place. Deitsch tradition continued to evolve, even after they converted to Christianity and moved to North America. It just doesn’t seem like it would be as much of a stretch to adapt Urglaawe to the present day than trying to recreate a religion from over 1,000 years ago in 21st century Texas.

Cycles of Nature

One of the things that first attracted me to Wicca was its calendar based on natural cycles, instead of human things like birthdays of important leaders and anniversaries of historical events. I disagree that being in tune with the turn of the season is irrelevant to modern life. Even if some pagans are disconnected from the seasons, I am not! It’s a big part of my spiritual practice. It probably helps that I live out in the country with two vegetable gardens, a small orchard, and lots of parks and greenspaces around. I most certainly notice the changes in the seasons and celebrate them. Wicca’s holidays are taken from English folk tradition, which is a blend of Celtic and Germanic influences. Urglaawe’s holidays are quite similar to Wicca’s because of the common Germanic influence, and like I mentioned above, they influenced a lot of American secular holiday traditions as well. Celebrating them just seems to fit so much better into my life than celebrating the sorts of things like Vikings did, like the start of the raiding season.

Die Blanzeheilkunscht and Nature Spirits

I’ve always been interested in plant lore, and Urglaawe has this long history of herbalism utilizing both Old World and New World species of plants. I also love that they talk about the plant spirits. I’m an animist, and the idea that plants possess powerful spirits has a long history in many polytheistic cultures, but it seems to not come up in Asatru much. I haven’t found as much about animal lore in Urglaawe yet, but I’m sure there must be some. Asatruar often say that the nature spirits were more important to ordinary people than the gods, but they don’t seem to talk about them much. The likely explanation is that Heathens are just as disconnected from nature as any other modern people, but I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Potential Pitfalls

I’m not Pennsylvania Dutch. Then again, I’m not Scandinavian either. Like I said, my mom was born in Germany, which is at least closer to where the Pennsylvania Dutch came from. I also live in an area that had a lot of German immigrants, but they were a completely different wave of immigration from the Pennsylvania Dutch. As far as I know the Texas Germans didn’t preserve a lot of Heathen ways, though I could be wrong. My mother-in-law is of Pennsylvania Dutch descent, but she’s not really a part of the community herself. All in all, I’m probably culturally closer to the Pennsylvania Dutch than I am to the Scandinavians, but maybe not by much.

I don’t feel like I really have much of a cultural heritage at all, alas. So I’ll probably continue being just a “generic Heathen”, though I would like to adopt more Urglaawe-like things into my personal practice. Would that be cultural appropriation?

One of the main things I like about Urglaawe is being close to the land and plant and animal spirits and seasons, but I don’t live in Pennsylvania, I live in Texas. It’s closer than Scandinavia, but still a pretty different climate and ecosystem.

Since the Pennsylvania Dutch adapted their Heathen traditions to the New World when they came from Germany, would it be OK to further adapt their Heathenry to Texas? Can I add Prickly Pear and Mescal Bean to the list of important plant spirits? Can I substitute a local animal for the groundhog? After Dunner is done driving the Frost Giants out of the North, does he come down to Texas to bring thunderstorms and fight with tornadoes?

Here’s where I’m getting my information from:

http://www.urglaawe.com/uploads/A_Brief_Introduction_to_Urglaawe_First_Edition_2009.pdf

http://urglaawe.blogspot.com/

http://www.blanzeheilkunscht.com/

Holding the Keys

I didn’t do a lot of the things I resolved to do for 2014, but I hope my dad dying was a good enough excuse to let some of that stuff go. Last winter, I wrote about how I was going to try to get to know the goddess Frigg a bit better. I added a Frigg doll from Etsy to my altar, and started giving her offerings, though the offerings weren’t as regular as I had originally intended.

Today’s my birthday, and since my birthday is so soon after New Year’s, it feels like the day I need to really get serious about New Year’s resolutions, since I’m also entering the next year of my life. In 2015 I’m going to try to re-focus on worshipping Frigg and getting more of her influence into my life, because I probably need her even more now than I did then.

Even though Odin is my main god, I’ve never had much of a relationship with his wife. For a long time she intimidated me, and I’m starting to think if I find her intimidating, that might mean something, and it might actually be good for me to get to know her better and figure out why that is.

After I became Heathen, the only goddess I had anything to do with was Freya, but I didn’t interact with her nearly as much as Odin, with Thor and Frey showing up from time to time. I’m afraid part of my dealings with Freya might have been out of a feeling of obligation that since I’m a woman, I have to worship a goddess of some sort. I do have some things in common with Freya. We both love cats. At the time, I was single. As an ex-Wiccan, I was into “witchy” type stuff, but I often felt like I was too much of a tomboy for her. I don’t like “girly” things like makeup and dresses.

Of course, there are other goddesses out there, but Heathenry has so little information on them that getting to know them takes a lot of effort. I thought maybe I’d get along with Sif or Idunna, but that never ended up amounting to much.

I really wanted nothing to do with Frigg, even though she’s the second most well-known Heathen goddess after Freya. Why? Maybe because her areas of expertise are so stereotypically feminine. By the time I became Heathen, I had decided I didn’t like Wiccan theology because it was too gender essentialist. I liked that Heathen deities didn’t always conform to Wiccan ideas about what is feminine and what is masculine.

But Frigg is the 1950’s housewife goddess, right? And I was an unmarried feminist tomboy college student studying a male-dominated field. My life had nothing to do with Frigg at all.

But there’s more to it than that. If Frigg merely didn’t interest me, it would put her in the same category as a lot of deities that I’m neutral about, but Frigg intimidated me. When people would say I’m nuts for having anything to do with Odin, I’d half-jokingly say Odin doesn’t worry me nearly as much as Frigg, because even Odin is no match for her, as you can see from her myths. But I think my problem warming up to Frigg was really because of some feelings I have about what it means to be a “wife” and “mother.” This might be getting a bit Jungian, but I think I was projecting an image of my own mother onto Frigg in an archetypal sort of way, and I’m sorry to say that my mother is a rather difficult person.

My parents were unhappily married as far back as I can remember. They even slept in separate rooms. I never saw them showing each other affection. My mother always badmouthed my father to me, even when I was a small child. I was brought up to believe he was a big dummy and everything wrong with their marriage was his fault. When I was 13 or so, she started seriously make plans to divorce him, and dad moved out when I was 16. By this time, Mom had thoroughly turned me against him, so I wasn’t at all unhappy to see that bastard go (something I really regret now that he’s dead). She eventually got remarried, and then divorced again when she found out my step-dad had been cheating on her for years with prostitutes.

My mom was sexually abused by her father, so she understandably has a negative view of men, but she still thinks she needs a husband to take care of her, if she could only find Mr. Right. After that kind of modeling of what marriage is all about, I was pretty sure I would never get married, because if I did, it would probably end up horrible just like my mom’s marriages (my dad was her second and longest marriage, but she told me she only stayed with him that long for the sake of the kids). Actually, I can’t think of a single woman in my entire family who has ever been happily married. So why would I be so arrogant as to think I would be the one to buck the trend?

Well, I met my husband in 2008, and we got married in 2012, so that means we’ve known each other for almost seven years and we don’t hate each other yet. I think that’s already better than my parents, who got married quickly, had kids quickly, and started resenting each other quickly after they were “stuck with each other” because of the kids. Shoot, my husband and I actually still love each other and enjoy each other’s company! Amazing!

Of course, my mom has grown to absolutely hate my husband, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that she’s not the best person in the world to look to for relationship advice.

Now my husband and I are trying to have a kid, and that opens up a whole new set of anxieties. If our marriage fails and we get divorced without kids, that would be unfortunate, but at least we’re both adults and can handle it. Now we’re thinking about bringing an innocent kid into the picture. Coming from unstable home, I’m afraid I don’t have a good model of how to manage a stable home, which is Frigg’s main area of expertise.

I had a bit of a breakthrough when meditating on Frigg over the holiday break. Before that, I had been associating Frigg with my mom. I was still seeing her as a mother stand-in, and if my own mother is unhappy with how I turned out, the powerful Queen of Asgard would surely find me inadequate as well. But now I have to go to her anyway and ask for her blessing.

So I burned some incense for her and gave her an offering of vanilla liqueur and stood there a bit. And what popped into my head is: “You hold the keys now.”

Of course! Why didn’t I think of that before? I’m an adult now! This is my house! My husband and I are in charge. I can be the kind of wife and mother I want to be. I’m not doomed to repeat the mistakes of my mother and grandmother.

Suddenly Frigg doesn’t seem like a 50’s housewife anymore. Suddenly she’s much more empowering than that.

This song has helped with this new understanding of Frigg:

I Don’t Understand Folkish Heathenry At All

Heimdall_DarkW1

I had hoped that my previous post, “Wotan vs. Ignorance”, would be all I needed to say about this, but after thinking a little more about race and racism in Asatru, I have come to an important conclusion.

I don’t understand “folkish” Heathenry at all. It just doesn’t make sense. They say they’re not “racist”, but they’re not “universalist” either, but I don’t understand what exactly would be a “middle ground” between those two. The only non-racist position I can figure out that makes any sense at all is the “universalist” position.

When I first got into Heathenry in about 2002 or 2003, it was explained to me that “universalist” Heathens believed that anyone could be Heathen regardless of your background, while “folkish” Heathens meant you had to be one of “the folk”, but that’s NOT racist. They really, really want to make sure you know that they are totally not racist. Just look at the comment thread on this recent Wild Hunt article about Heathens in Costa Rica.

Folkish Heathens LOVE to compare themselves to Native American tribes, and how you have to have a certain amount of Native blood to belong to a tribe, which supposedly makes them “just as racist as we are.” They keep ignoring how those policies were imposed on them by the United States Government, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that maybe some tribes would still have a similar policy anyway if it were up to them.

I can see it making a lot of sense for a tribe to require, say, at least one parent being a member of the tribe or marrying a member of the tribe in order to get membership. I also don’t see that as being racist. That would have nothing to do with the color of a person’s skin. A lot of Indian tribes have been multiracial for centuries. The Seminoles, for example, are famous for taking in escaped black slaves. There were also plenty of tribes that intermarried with white people. The MC at the last pow-wow I went to looked just as white as me, but said he was a member of the Osage tribe. One of the dancers looked like one of the Weasleys from Harry Potter, with red hair and freckles. Then at the Navajo taco stand, I overheard a conversation between the young lady serving up the tacos and one of her customers who seemed to be flirting with her. He asked if she was a Navajo, and she told him her mom’s Navajo and dad’s Irish. “That’s a good mix,” the young man said.

So from what I’ve seen, no, Native American tribes are not “just as racist”, as it only took me one casual visit to a pow-wow to discover. I’m sure there are some individual Native Americans who are racist, and in that case, I think that’s just as wrong as when white people are racist.

Another important difference to keep in mind here is that Native American tribes aren’t religions. They are semi-autonomous nations with their own tribal governments (I’m not quite sure how it works in other countries like Canada or Latin America, so I’m only speaking for the USA here). Many Native Americans are Christians, or practice a syncretic mixture of Christian and Native American religion. So joining a Native American tribe isn’t like joining a religion, it’s more like getting citizenship in a country.

Speaking of getting religions mixed up with nations, folkish Heathens also like to bring up Judaism and Israel. Well, I have a good friend who’s an Orthodox Jew, and he insists that literally anyone can be a Jew if they really want to. All sects of Judaism consider someone with a Jewish mother to be a Jew (some more liberal sects also accept people with Jewish fathers), and all sects accept converts as full Jews. He does admit that some Jews see converts as not being Jewish enough, but he says that’s wrong of them, and if anything “Jews by choice” are usually more committed to the religion than mere “Jews by birth,” many of whom are “secular Jews” who aren’t very religious.

Now, Jews don’t actively seek out converts, and converting to Judaism does take some work on a person’s part, but it’s still possible for anyone to convert if they really want to. A black person or Asian person can convert and be just as Jewish as someone with a Jewish mother. So Judaism isn’t racist either. Anyone of any race can be a Jew if they want.

As for Israeli citizenship, it’s actually even more liberal. The Law of Return applies to anyone with a Jewish parent, grandparent, or spouse. Other than that, you can still get Israeli citizenship in similar ways to getting citizenship in other countries, and there are still plenty of non-Jewish Israeli citizens.

So what do “folkish” Heathens mean when they say you need to be part of “the folk” to be Heathen?  Heathenry is a broken tradition that’s being reconstructed. You can’t say, “If you have a Heathen mother, you’re a Heathen,” because that would exclude the majority of Heathens. I have never met a single person who was “born and raised Heathen,” though I’m sure a few must exist somewhere.

We have nothing equivalent to the Navajo Nation, let along something like Israel.  There’s no tribal government to grant us citizenship. American Heathens look to countries like Norway, Sweden, Germany, etc. as being our “homelands”, but most citizens of those countries aren’t Heathens.

My mom was actually born in Germany. She moved here when she was about 5 years old. There was still a lot of anti-German sentiment in the US at the time, being so soon after World War II, so her father forced her to speak English all the time, even at home, until she lost her accent and forgot how to speak German. My grandparents on that side are both dead now, and I’ve never been to Germany and don’t speak German.

So does that make me one of “the folk” or not? If I am part of “the folk”, then what makes me part of the folk? One parent who was born in a country she barely remembers and I’ve never been to?

What if you had a black man who was an actual German citizen? Believe it or not, they do exist! What if he has lived in Germany his whole life? What if his family goes back several generations in Germany, or at least Europe? Does that make him one of “the folk?”

What about the Texas Germans or the Pennsylvania Dutch? These are immigrants who came from Germany many generations ago, long enough that they’ve evolved their own unique culture, complete with unique dialects of German that are distinct from the German that is spoken in Germany (and sadly, Texas German is going extinct). Are they part of “the folk?” They have ancestors going back several generations in America, while I’m only a first-generation American on my mother’s side, but they speak German and have their own distinct culture (though the Texas Germans are going extinct), and I only speak English and a little Spanish, and am part of mainstream American culture.

Comments like I saw on the Wild Hunt article about Costa Rican Heathens (asking why they don’t just worship “their own gods”) and posts like this from Grumpy Lokean Elder sure make it look like “folkish” Heathens are using your physical phenotype to determine whether you are one of “the folk” or not. If their criteria are not what your parents were, or your nationality, or what language you speak, or what religious rituals you actually do, or what gods you believe in, then all that’s left seems to be your physical phenotype.

Otherwise, how could I be more worthy of being Heathen than a dark-skinned German citizen? I’ve already explained in a previous post why your physical phenotype has very little to do with anything important about you as a person.

The only non-racist position I can see here is the “universalist” position that says anyone can be Heathen. Any other criteria I can think of either doesn’t make any sense in the context of Heathenry, or ends up being racist.

Maybe one day someone will example folkish Heathenry to me in a way that doesn’t come out as being racist, but that hasn’t happened yet in the decade or so I’ve been a Heathen.

And frankly, I think that while we’re in this stage of trying to piece together a living tradition, it would be in the our best interest to be as welcoming as possible to converts without regard to “race” or “ethnicity” or “nationality”. If we’re not, and keep sticking to this pseudoscientific racial model, our tradition is not going to survive, and I don’t think it would deserve to either.

One thing that folkish Heathens seem to be really afraid of is the imminent extinction of “our folk” (some of Stephen McNallen’s essays being good examples, but it comes up other places too, including KKK and neo-Nazi groups). Now, I don’t think that’s actually going to happen any time soon, but let’s say that white people really are going extinct. What’s so bad about that? Are we upset about people with pale skin becoming rarer than people with darker skin? Well, maybe that will help reduce the rates of skin cancer.

Are we upset about European culture or religion going extinct? In that case, why not be welcoming to non-white people who wish adopt European culture and/or religion? I thought about that while reading about the Costa Rican Heathens, and then reading comments from folkish Heathens saying that Cosa Ricans should follow “their own gods”. But the more people who follow our gods, the less likely it is for their worship to go extinct.

Unless the thought of brown and black people worshiping our gods is so abhorrent to you that you’d rather they not be worshiped at all. And that really shows where your priorities lie.

Heimdall

Blogging in 2015

I am grudgingly writing a New Year’s post, mainly because I did one last year, but I really don’t feel like it. As I mentioned last year, I do think this is a good time of year to take a life-inventory and realign some things if necessary.

The problem is I’m not sure if blogging is one of the things I should keep or throw out. One thing I did accomplish in 2014 was to post at least once a month. I also commented on other people’s posts more, and managed to get a few readers. Someone even put a couple of my posts on Reddit. My reaction was a mixture of, “Yay! People are reading what I wrote!” and “Oh crap! People are reading what I wrote!” I have been posting things online since I was 15. That was before blogs existed, and you posted things on Usenet. So obviously there’s something about it that attracts me, but I also soon learned that the internet can bring out the worst in people, and only seems to have gotten worse in the last couple of decades. My previous online experience was mostly fandom-related, but the pagan internet is no different when it comes to flame wars. In some ways it’s worse, because it’s about religion, which is supposed to be a serious topic, but then again, some people can get quite “religious” about their fandoms.

I knew what I was getting into because I’d been lurking on pagan blogs for years before I made my own. I knew that the way you get attention is by jumping on the bandwagon to post about every single controversy that comes up, right when it comes up, rather than talking about what you actually do when you’re not online. And the really dumb thing is that they seem to do the same wars over and over again. Well, I guess they change a little. When I first got onto the pagan internet in 2002, it was all “Wiccans vs. Reconstructionists.” In this corner, the Wiccans were eclectic, UPG-based, pantheistic, “nature-based”, and magic-centered. And in this corner, you have the Reconstructionists, who were purists who stuck to historical lore, “hard polytheists”, deity-centered, and wanted to make darn sure you knew they were absolutely NOT a “nature-based” religion.

Those two “camps” have realigned somewhat now that we have “devotional polytheists” who also worship deities from more than one pantheon, and are more OK with mysticism and UPG, and are somehow taken seriously and not seen as being “fluffy bunnies”. That seems like a little progress, maybe. They are pitted against the “monists” or “humanistic pagans”, I guess.

But in a lot of ways it seems like the same old crap. In 2002 or 2003 the Reconstructionists didn’t want to be called Pagans, because they’re absolutely nothing like Wiccans and petitioned Beliefnet to get them their own separate section on that site. Then recently it was the “devotional polytheists” that didn’t want to be called Pagans and wanted their separate websites too. As I watched that I just kept thinking, “You know we already did this ten years ago, right?”

This is probably one of the main reasons why I’m a “lumper” rather than a “splitter” when it comes to the “pagan community.” Because when you take the long view, the various factions realign themselves so often that any lines you draw are going to be erased and redrawn in only a few years.

Well, I’m digressing, but I think my point is that the internet probably makes this worse. When I first got on the internet when I was 15, we actually thought that the internet would be some kind of utopia where everyone was judged only on their ideas, and not on their age, skin color, sex, or any of those other physical features you can’t see. All you have of a person to go on is the content of their characters.

Instead, (and I’m not quite sure how this works, because dammit Jim I’m an ecologist not a psychologist) people tend to be more hateful online than in person. I think one way that happens is that people who are already hateful get a platform to spew as much hate as they want without repercussions. You can see that on the latest round of the “racism in Asatru” controversy (another one that’s been around for years and years and never seems to make any progress). Some of the comments posted on the Wild Hunt, or Sarenth Odinsson’s blog, or on Heathens United Against Racism’s Facebook page looked like they were coming straight from the KKK, with the one exception that the KKK claims to be Christian. I mean, one comment on Sarenth’s blog went as far as complaining about the Jews running the world and comparing interracial marriage to bestiality! And they did that all while saying they’re offended that people are calling them racist, which is the part that blows my mind the most. Like I said before, I think I’d actually respect them more if they just said, “Yeah, I’m a racist and proud of it!” Otherwise, they’re not only racists, but hypocrites with a total lack of self-awareness.

But to give people the benefit of the doubt, even folks who aren’t Klansmen wannabes might come off as more confrontational online than they may intend, and are actually perfectly nice people if you met them face to face. I know I’ve jotted out comments on other people’s blogs that might have not been thought out well enough, or perhaps I should have just kept to myself. So maybe some nasty-looking comments by other people weren’t meant to be nasty, but they somehow came out that way. Maybe it’s because people in general aren’t good enough writers to get their intended message across in text with no tone of voice or facial expressions, or maybe people need to think things through a bit more before they post.

I’m not even that good at talking with people face-to-face. When I originally got on the internet, I thought it would be an introvert’s paradise, but it often turns out to be the exact opposite. Posting things on the internet seems to mostly leave me vulnerable to personal attacks rather than a civil exchange of ideas.

Well, this post turned out to be more stream-of-consciousness than I originally intended, but the point is that I’m trying to rethink what I’m even doing with this blog. I think one disadvantage I have that might actually turn out to be an advantage is that I don’t have much time to blog in the first place. That means I often don’t have time to jump on the bandwagon with the latest flame war, and if something is important enough to write about, I usually don’t get a post done until people have moved on to the next flame war, so my post gets no attention. Also, sometimes I think about saying something about the latest flame war, and after thinking about it a bit, I decide it’s not important enough to bother with.

I did jump on the bandwagon with the last racism flame war, but my excuse for that is that racism is an important topic anyway that goes way beyond paganism. Much more important than how hard of a polytheist you are, or if whatever you’re doing has a basis in The Lore, whatever other bit of orthodoxy people are arguing about now. I also, unfortunately, identify with the sect of paganism that has the biggest problem with racists. I think I can be an example of a Heathen who isn’t a racist, but I still wonder if that’s a battle worth fighting, or if I should just drop the Heathen label and let people think I’m Wiccan. I’d rather let people think that than having people think I’m a racist.

In conclusion, I’ll try to keep up with this blog for another year. I’ll try to post at least once a month. But I’ll try to be more thoughtful about what I post, and especially about what comments I make on other people’s blogs, because that seems to be where it gets out of hand, probably because I do comments much more quickly than blog posts and don’t think about them enough.

I think one of the most detrimental things about getting caught up in too much online drama is that it distracts me from why I’m a pagan/heathen to begin with. I’m too easily influenced by other people’s ideas of what the gods are like and what Heathenry or Paganism should be. For example, people write so much about the scary aspects of Odin that I start to wonder if my positive experiences with him were all in my imagination (in general it seems unfashionable among polytheists to talk about the gods being kind or benevolent). Then there are people who think being a Heathen is all about “white pride” or being tough guy badass macho warriors. Or that in order to be a proper Heathen, you have to be an expert on Viking Era history and everything you do or believe has to be based on that historical time period. And then on the Pagan side, I run into the people who think it’s all about polyamory (which is fine if that’s what you’re into and it’s all among consensual adults, but my husband and I really do just want to be monogamous), or they talk a lot about being nature-based but seem to think that our conceptions of masculine vs. feminine is some sort of universal thing in nature, or think that being a pagan is about having no rules or obligations or standards.

It just seems like I have some very different ideas of what paganism means to me. I could just not bother and go back to being an atheist, I guess, if it becomes too much of a waste of time.

I mean, speaking of wastes of time, just look at the time! Think of the things I could have been doing in those hours instead of writing this post!

Yule Preparations

Father Christmas in Blue

Final grades were due Monday. I usually try to get that all done by Friday of finals week, but this time I had to spend a few hours at the library on Monday grading some late assignments, calculating grades, and entering them into the computer system. Oh, and answering the slew of “What did I get on my final?” emails from students. But now I’m DONE!

Yesterday I spent almost all day working in the yard and garden. It’s supposed to rain for the next three days, so this was my only chance to get some of that done before Yule. I did some mowing, which is a big task because we have an acre of land, but I refuse to get a riding mower like our neighbors have. We don’t mow very often, and we don’t have much “lawn” anyway (most of our yard is either too shady, or gardens), but I like to have the grass neatly trimmed when we’re expecting company. I also had to turn the compost pile, which means my arms are pretty sore today.

We have had very unusual weather so far this “winter”. We usually get our first killing freeze around Thanksgiving. This year we ended up having a light frost the week before Thanksgiving, and we were supposed to have a hard freeze a couple of days later. So I harvested the sweet potatoes, picked the last of the eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers, and my husband and I worked hard to bring in the potted plants and cover up the dwarf citrus trees we have planted in the ground.

And then one night it got down to 30 degrees, and since then it hasn’t gotten below freezing again at all. Down to the high 30’s at worst during the night, 60’s and 70’s during the day. My tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants lost some leaves, but have since started growing new leaves back. There are still no freezes in the forecast. It’s certainly not going to freeze again before Yule.

I know I’m not supposed to attribute any one specific weather event to climate change, but I do think this is a preview of the kind of “winters” we’re going to have much more often in future decades. Some people thought we were a bit crazy planting our dwarf citrus trees in the ground instead of pots, but maybe some day we’ll be able to grow bananas here! (But I’m not looking forward to what the summers will be like then!)

One good thing about being an educator is the time off. I teach summer classes, but still get a couple of weeks off in May before the summer semester. I also get Spring Break, Thanksgiving Break, and about three weeks of Winter Break. On the downside, that means I can’t take a vacation at any other time of year (so I’ve had to miss out on happenings in February and October, for example), but it’s still much better than when I worked in retail and had to work on most weekends and holidays. This means I get all 12 days of Yule off work, which I realize is a huge luxury most people don’t get.

Recently a question came up on the Troth Facebook group on whether celebrating 12 days of Yule is historically accurate, or a Christian thing. Honestly, I quit caring about being historically accurate a while ago. I consider Yule lasting from the solstice to New Year’s Day, which works out to be about 12 days. During this time, I try to do as little work as possible (except for “work” I enjoy, like cooking or gardening), and try to make the most of my time spending it with my family, friends, cats, plants, and gods (not always in that order). That means I have three more days to get chores done before Yule.

I haven’t yet figured out something to do for all 12 days, but I usually do something for the solstice, something on Dec. 24-25, and something for New Year Eve and Day.

I’ve had a party on the solstice (or the weekend closest to it) for at least ten years now. It started when I was in college, and it’s sort of waned over the years as my college friends have graduated, moved away, gotten married, and had families. However, this year it looks like we’re going to have a good turnout. I also plan on making this party more Heathen than in the past, rather than just a party. Of course, Yule is a joyous occasion, but this year I’m going to make it more obvious that the gods are invited as well.

I’m going to set up an altar to Frey in the sacred circle in our backyard. Yule is a good time to honor any of the gods, but I usually associate Odin with winter and Frey with summer. However, this year I have something important to request of Frey, so I’m making him a bit more prominent. One of my good friends just got married to a Heathen (she’s a Celtic pagan), and asked if her husband could bring a goat effigy to burn in the Yule fire. I told them that would be fine, so perhaps Thor will be honored as well. I’ll probably try to work something in for Odin and Frigg too.

Every year we burn a Yule log, started with a piece of last year’s log. We usually use a nice big piece of live oak. This year it will be a piece of one of the trees on our land that died in the 2011 drought (right before we moved here). Since it looks like this year will be a warm Yule, we’ll probably have it outside in our fire pit. In years past when it was actually wintry on Yule we burned the log in the fireplace.

Of course, we’ve already hung our stockings on the mantle, decorated the Yule tree, and hung the LED lights on the eves of the house. Yule has got to be one of the easiest pagan holidays to celebrate. I figure any Christmas traditions that aren’t explicitly about the birth of Jesus are fair game. Then again, my husband has a really beautiful porcelain nativity set that I wish he could put out, but he doesn’t trust our cats to not break something from it. So I don’t even mind the Jesus stuff either.

My friend’s husband also offered to bring his drinking horn for a symbel after the feast. He did the same thing when he came over for Midsummer, and it went well. Depending on how chilly it is, we could have it either around the fire pit, or in the sacred circle like we did at Midsummer. (We can’t have the fire pit in the sacred circle because there are too many trees around that might be injured by a fire that close.)

But never mind about that stuff! Of course the most important thing about Yule, or any holiday, is the FOOD! I’ve been thinking about what I’ll make for the Yule feast for weeks!

One holiday tradition I’ve started is to make a fruitcake during Thanksgiving break so it has time to soak in rum. I’ve been doing this ever since I saw the fruitcake episode of Good Eats. I never tasted fruitcake before, but the recipe sounded delicious, so I had to try it, and I’ve been making it ever since. How can anyone not like a cake full of dried fruit, nuts, spices, and rum? Well, turns out my husband doesn’t like it! But I was making this fruitcake before I met him, so I still make it even though he doesn’t eat any. (By the way, you can vary which fruit, nuts, and booze you use for that cake as long as you keep the portions the same.) I just hope some of my guests like it, so I won’t have to eat the whole thing myself. (I’ll do it, though! I sometimes have a slice for breakfast.)

I’ll also make some Christmas cookies… I mean, Yule cookies… for the fruitcake haters, but I haven’t yet decided which kind. Alton Brown has a melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookie recipe. I also really like gingerbread cookies, which have the benefit of a long Germanic tradition behind them. I’d also like to try my hand at making Chocolate Crinkle cookies this year, which I’ve never made before. Darn it, I might just have to make several different kinds of cookies! I could make the cookie dough ahead of time, since it lasts well in the fridge for freezer, and just take out and bake some of it for the solstice, and maybe some more for family Christmas later.

For the main course, I have a heritage turkey in the chest freezer that’s been there for quite a while. A couple of years ago I caught an after-Thanksgiving clearance sale by a local farmer who raises pastured and grass-fed meat. I was so excited by the good price on an otherwise very expensive product that I bought three turkeys from him. This is the last one left. I have a brick smoker in the backyard that I always use for my Midsummer barbecues, and this year I’m going to cook the Yule turkey in there. This morning we set aside some firewood in the garage to stay dry (I hear the rumble of thunder now), and I’m going to cook the turkey with the mesquite. Yum! It’s supposed to rain until Friday, and then clear up on Saturday just in time. Perfect!

Since free range heritage turkeys are much smaller than Butterballs, I’m also going to make some Norwegian meatballs from a recipe I got from the Penzey’s spice catalog a few years ago. They’ve become another holiday tradition around here (one that my husband actually likes). I’m not really sure what’s the difference between them and Swedish meatballs, but this recipe has ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom, which turn out to give a very interesting dimension to a savory dish.

For vegetables, I’m going to roast the rest of the sweet potatoes I harvested from the garden, including some purple ones, which should get some fun comments. I’ve got arugula and radishes ready to harvest from the garden that should make a nice salad. Too bad my turnips, carrots, beets, and parsnips are not quite ready yet.

Oh, and I’m going to make cranberry sauce from scratch (none of that canned stuff), because that goes with both the turkey and the meatballs. Not sure if I’ll also make stuffing, or mashed potatoes, or both stuffing AND mashed potatoes! Maybe I should make some additional vegetables. Might depend on how much time I have left after all that. I’m going to try to do as much ahead of time as possible, because it seems I’m always rushing around at the last minute with these things.

But that reminds me that first I need to do a good housecleaning! I hate cooking in a dirty kitchen, and the rest of the house needs some dusting and vacuuming as well. I can almost hear Frigg whispering in my ear, “Get off that computer and get to work!”

I also haven’t done ANY GIFT SHOPPING YET! On December 25 I do secular Christmas with my in-laws (I get along with them much better than with my birth family, who I can barely speak to without hostility these days). I love gift-giving. I could write a whole post just about that (and how to avoid commercialization ruining all the fun). At least I finally got people to tell me what they want. I just need to go out and find it now.

OK, time to get to work. I hear more thunder rumbling in the distance. My garden should really like that. Hail Thor! Time to get all these house chores out of the way before Yule. Then I’ve got cookie dough to make, a turkey to brine, groceries to buy… oh my gosh, so much to do!

Wotan vs. Ignorance

The fool who fancies he is full of wisdom
While he sits by his hearth at home.
Quickly finds when questioned by others.
That he knows nothing at all.

Havamal 26

One of the assignments I have in my Biology II class is a book review. I have a list of about 20 important biology books for them to choose from. My list includes On the Origin of Species, along with more recent books such as Silent Spring and The Selfish Gene. I allow the students to turn in their papers halfway through the semester to be graded and handed back to them, and then if they don’t like their grades, they get one chance for a rewrite.

This semester I received a paper about On the Origin of Species that claimed that most of Darwin’s ideas have been thoroughly discredited since the book was published. The paper had no citations for this, so I counted off points and handed it back with comments saying he needed to cite his sources. When I got the rewrite back, most of his citations were from something called The Journal of Creation. It also still included several claims with no citations, including some classic anti-evolution arguments such as “If humans ascended from apes, then why do apes still exist?” and “How could something as complex as the human eye evolve by chance?” There were several others I hadn’t heard before, like how the existence of tiger-lion hybrids disproves evolution, or how “natural selection can only remove information, not create new information.”

I looked up The Journal of Creation online, and found out it’s a so-called “peer-reviewed scientific journal” published by Creation Ministries International. Looking up CMI, I found out that Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham, split off from it. Ah ha! I’ve had Creationist students try to use AiG as a “scientific source” before. Browsing the AiG website only briefly, I was able to find articles about every single claim the student made in his paper.

The problem with these organizations is that they sound just scientific enough to fool someone ignorant about science. I was first made aware of AiG a few years ago when I was teaching about embryonic development, and how all chordates, including humans, have pharyngeal slits as embryos (which develop into gills in fish). A student (wearing a “Proud to be Homeschooled” t-shirt) raised his hand and said he heard the whole idea was discredited back in the 1990’s. I told him I hadn’t heard about that, and asked him what his source for that information was. He told me couldn’t remember, “some website”. I asked him to find me that website and give me the link later, and I’ll look at it. He never did. But I was curious, so I started searching myself, and that’s when I found Answers in Genesis. There was the article about how human embryos don’t really have pharyngeal slits, never addressing the problem of how, well, you can see them right there!

The Journal of Creation also looks, to the untrained eye, like a legitimate peer-reviewed scientific journal. It’s enough to make someone who doesn’t know much about the science (like say, someone who was homeschooled and sheltered his whole life) think that evolution by natural selection really is a controversial idea in biology. The fact that there’s still a significant portion of Americans who are Young Earth Creationists doesn’t help either. It’s not that hard for people to find others who agree with their views. But no matter how hard Young Earth Creationists try to make their ideas look scientific, assuming your religious book is true and then trying to twist observations around to fit what it says is not how the scientific method works.

Of course, there are many Christians who aren’t Young Earth Creationists, especially ones outside of the United States. The pope has said it’s totally OK for Catholics to believe in science. Many protestant denominations also don’t believe in YEC. Jews don’t either, even the most conservative Orthodox sects, even though they share the same creation story. All these religious groups who believe in science and God at the same time somehow manage to reconcile the two. It’s only a small minority of believers who have a problem with that.

Unfortunately, Christianity is not the only religion that contains people who use bad science to produce bad religion. There is a faction of American Heathenry that believes that religion has something to do with race, and race has something to do with genetics. The most famous essay on this subject is the misleadingly scientific-sounding “Metagenetics”, written by Stephen McNallen, the founder of the Asatru Folk Assembly, one of the largest Asatru organizations in the United States. He’s written other essays and blog posts about this as well, and he’s certainly not the only Heathen who believes in this. The recent controversy over Irminfolk’s membership criteria shows another example of this kind of thinking. Irminfolk has since taken its bylaws off its website, but I got a chance to read it before it was taken down, and it did say that they will only admit people with “Ethnic European” ancestry, and they will DNA test you if necessary. Just as Young Earth Creationists are an embarrassment to other Christians, racist Heathens are an embarrassment to the rest of us.

Now, I know that it’s not politically correct to call someone a racist who’s not actually out there lynching black people or shooting at Jewish community centers, and Heathen groups like Irminfolk and the AFA prefer to be called “folkish”. I just don’t see the difference between not allowing people who aren’t “European” enough into your religious group and something like refusing the hire non-white staff at your business or refusing to serve non-white customers, which are both considered racist by the general populace and are illegal under the Civil Rights Act. We can debate over whether it should be legally allowed for a private business to have racist policies (at least some Libertarians think it should be allowed), but they’re still racist policies by the dictionary definition of the word. Now, unlike businesses, religious organizations are allowed to have racist policies like this, so Irminfolk is well within their legal rights. It just annoys me that people are trying to redefine the term “racism” to only include the most extreme examples, so that the vast majority of racist actions don’t count. Words have definitions. Don’t try to redefine the word just because it has bad connotations. It would be more accurate if they said something like, “we’re not like those bad racists. We’re the good racists,” but they’re still following the dictionary definition of racism.

Racism, by the dictionary definition, includes not only violence towards other races, but the belief that different races have different innate abilities. For example, the belief that whites and Asians are better at science and math than blacks, or that blacks are better at sports than whites and Asians. What folkish heathens are saying is that whites are better at being heathens than non-whites. To justify this, they say that whites are equally unable to practice African or Asian religions, but that really doesn’t make them any less racist. That’s just saying they’re equally racist against whites, ironically. Others have already written about the theological problems with this, but what stands out to me as a biology professor is that racism is just bad science. Using pseudoscience as a basis for important religious beliefs isn’t working well for the Young Earth Creationists, and I don’t like this sort of thing going on in my religion either.

A Little Genetics Lesson
Part of my graduate school curriculum was two semesters of Population Genetics. We learned a lot about how one determines if a species has genetically distinct populations. It takes some math, but fortunately the math is fairly simple once you get the hang of it. For groups of a species to be distinct populations, there has to be so little gene flow between them that the variation between groups is greater than the variation within each group. Gene flow happens when a member of one group gets together with a member of another group and, you know, mixes their genes. Through mathematical models, we saw how little this has to happen to erase distinctions between groups. You can only have genetically distinct groups if a population is isolated enough, on an island for example. However, if you are trying classify a species into distinct populations, but you genetically test them and find out that the variation within each group is equal to or greater than the variation between groups, it turns out they really should be treated as the same genetic population.

This works for any species, whether it’s pine trees, salamanders, or humans, and it turns out that humans don’t have a lot of distinct populations. Maybe there are still a few isolated tribes on a Pacific Island somewhere, or in the highlands of New Guinea, but certainly the category known in this country as “white people” is not a genetically isolated population. I’m genetically closer to my Hispanic nephew than I am to most white people, and he’s closer to me than most Hispanics. President Obama is genetically closer to his white mother and grandparents than he is to most black people. That’s gene flow. Now that genetic testing has become cheap and easily available, it’s become clear that gene flow between the “races” is the norm rather than the exception, and it has been the norm for a long time, certainly it has been with “white people.” Just look at the map. Europe is not isolated at all. People have been easily traveling between Europe and Asia, Africa, and North America for hundreds if not thousands of years. And thanks to widespread genetic testing now, we can see how much gene flow that’s resulted in between Europeans and people from these other continents.

“But they look different!” people say. Yes, humans have variation in the genes for skin color (just like cats and dogs come in different colors too), but skin color is not a good way to classify distinct races of humans. Having a certain skin color can be an advantage or disadvantage in certain climates, so over generations, populations of humans living in sub-Saharan Africa and Australia evolved darker skin on average, while humans living in Eurasia evolved lighter skin on average. It’s similar to how wolves that live on the tundra tend to have lighter fur than wolves that live in dark forests.

What makes it even more complicated is that skin color is controlled by multiple genes, which is how you get the range of shades from very dark to very light, rather than only a couple of colors. Very dark people have lots of dark skin genes, while very light people have lots of light genes, with lots of people intermediate between the two. Hair texture, hair color, eye shape, and even eye color are polygenic traits as well, and they’re all separate from skin color, so you can have people with all sorts of combinations. My point is that there is not one gene that designates a person as being a “white person”, or a “black person”, or any other race. All of us have various combinations of various genes, but there are no lines you can draw between the races using genes. Europeans still have some “dark” genes, and Africans still have some “light” genes, they just have them in different proportions. We’ve just culturally decided that people that have certain combinations of traits belong to certain “races”, but that distinction doesn’t map onto the genetics of the people in these groups.

“But what about sickle-cell anemia? Surely diseases that are associated with one race or another prove that races are biologically distinct.” That’s even simpler to explain. Unlike appearance, it’s only caused by one gene. It’s recessive, so if you have two copies of that gene, you have sickle-cell anemia. If you have one copy of that gene, you are resistant to malaria. Most people don’t have any copy of that gene at all. Since having one copy gives you resistance to malaria, it has an evolutionary advantage in areas where malaria is prevalent, such as West Africa, so the gene is more common there. It’s also found in people from Central and South America, and people of Mediterranean descent. In other words, it’s not that much different than dark skin genes. It gives people an advantage in a certain environment, so natural selection makes it more common there. The sickle cell gene is only indirectly related to having dark skin, because in Equatorial environments, there is both more malaria and more sun exposure, so the environment selects for both those traits at the same time.

It’s certainly not a gene that can be used to distinguish black people from white people, because even though more people who have the gene are black than white, most black people don’t have it, and it’s possible for a white person to have it.

This brings me to something I’ve been wondering, as a biologist, reading things by folkish Heathens. Stephen McNallen claims that religion can somehow be inherited by your children, and therefore “white people” have all inherited Asatru from our European ancestors and non-Europeans have not, so that’s why only white people can practice Asatru.  Unfortunately “metagenetics” can be easily confused with epigenetics, a legitimate biological concept, by a layperson. It reminds me of Ken Ham making up the scientific-sounding “baraminology” as Creationist alternative to phylogeny. McNallen is rather vague about how metagenetics works. He does say in a follow-up essay that it’s not something as simple as having a certain DNA sequence. However, Irminfolk says they will go so far as to DNA test people who want to become members to see if they have enough European ancestry. So apparently they do think that the DNA in a person matters.

So what is the Asatru gene?

Since they took their bylaws down, I’m not sure if it says in there anywhere what circumstances a DNA test will be necessary, but I do distinctly remember DNA tests being mentioned. So what genes are they going to test for? As I’ve already explained, “European” and “white” are not genes. There are only genes that may be more common or less common in people of European descent. For any gene they pick, there are going to be people with pale skin who may not have it, and people with dark skin who may have it, as long as you test a large enough sample of people.

I just can’t help but think these people simply don’t understand how genetics works. Just like when I read Answers in Genesis, and it’s so obvious right away that they have no idea how evolution works. And yet you’re going to base an important tenant of your religion on it? If they do genetically test someone, how does that particular gene make a person able to worship the Aesir? We’re learning more and more about how genes work every day, but as far as I know they haven’t yet found a “religion” gene, much less developed a test for it.

Why Bother Explaining This?
One of the complaints Christians have against Young Earth Creationism is that it turns some people away from Christianity entirely. Adhering to YEC requires a willful ignorance of biology, astronomy, geology, and the scientific method in general. Racism also turns people against Heathenry. As people in general become more aware of the non-reality of biological race, “folkish” Heathens are going to look more and more ridiculous, like T-rexes in the Garden of Eden.

Creationism is not the only pseudoscience that has come up in my classroom. I’ve also had to deal with students who think global warming is a hoax, and students who think vaccines cause autism. That second one is becoming common enough now that I had to add a whole extra section to my lecture on vaccines to address the topic directly. Some would tell me that trying to argue with people who believe these things is a futile effort. Bill Nye the Science Guy was strongly criticized by other scientists for debating Ken Ham, because they thought it gave Ken Ham some kind of legitimacy. I agree that hardcore Creationists, global warming deniers, anti-vaxers, and racists are seldom persuaded by scientific arguments. I can cite all the scientific literature I want about any of these topics, and they’ll only say that the scientists are also part of the conspiracy.

One of the most frustrating things about that paper my student turned in this semester is that all of his arguments against evolution were covered either in my class or in Biology I that he should have taken as a prerequisite. I went over human evolution and the evolution of the eye, and the scientific method, genetics, phylogeny, speciation, and hybridization should have been covered by his Biology I professor. In his paper he wrote “evolutionists have never explained” these things, and that’s certainly not true. Explanations for all these things are in the textbook he was supposed to have purchased and read. He just refused to pay attention, I guess.

So it’s true that convincing the hardcore believers is probably hopeless, but there are a lot of people out there who really haven’t taken sides yet. I’ve had students who didn’t know what natural selection is at all, or have never heard of global warming, or had no idea how vaccines work. I’ve had a student ask me, “What’s polio?” Those are the people I want to reach.

The idea that race is biological is a myth that’s been ingrained in our culture for hundreds of years, so I really can’t blame most people for believing it. I didn’t learn about it until I was a junior in college and took an anthropology course as an elective. This was also around when I first started getting curious about Asatru, so it really came just in time. Before that I also thought that there was a biological component to race, and I still catch myself slipping into that mode of thinking every now and then. It can be hard to unlearn these things.

Anthropology and genetics are really not my areas of expertise. I specialized in ecology, even though I’ve found myself teaching general biology now. I’d much rather talk about birds and trees, but I’ve now found myself in a religion with a racism problem. Hopefully this essay will make my position on that issue clear. In the end, I really don’t understand what would be so horrible about someone with no European ancestry practicing Asatru. I think that it’s important that pre-Christian religions are preserved (all of them), but who cares about the DNA of the people who are doing the preserving? Why am I more worthy of the task just because I’m pale? I can imagine the possibility of someone with darker skin than me being a better heathen than me. Why should that person be excluded? I don’t get it.

How Folkish Heathenry Differs from Judaism & Native American tribes

Amanda:

Another good anti-racism post. I especially like the part at the end responding to this notion of “white gods”. Far too many people these days still believe that your “race” is a genetic thing rather than a purely cultural construct. I still get shocked reactions from many people when I try to explain to them that you can’t look at a person’s genome and tell what race they are, and a lot of them still don’t believe me even though I’m the one with the Master’s degree in Biology. The “white race” was invented to distinguish us from the other, inferior “black”, “red”, and “yellow” races.

The area of Texas I live in was settled by a lot of German immigrants, so we have a lot of German cultural events around here like Wurstfest in New Braunfels and Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg. Attendees there seem to reflect the general demographics of the area, with lots of Hispanics especially. You don’t have to be blonde haired and blue eyed to enjoy some bratwurst and beer and polka music!

Also, when the Texas Germans first settled here, they were discriminated against by the English-speaking Texans and were allies with the Comanche tribe. The Anglo-Texans certainly didn’t see the Germans as fellow “white people” and part of their “folk”. Look up the Nueces Massacre.

Originally posted on The Lefthander's Path:

As I was looking thru my wordpress reader, I saw that Sarenth had written a great post-Why Racism Harms Heathenry (go read it!) responding to a comment to statement released by HUAR- Heathens United Against Racism about a folkish Heathen group. As a member of HUAR (though I do not claim to speak for them as a whole) I’d like to further respond to a comment made on Sarenth’s blog.

“As for the Irminfolk bylaws. They aren’t racists. Do they have a quota on genetics in order to be a member? Yes. But so does every Native American, or really any group that’s for a specific ethnic or racial group, out there. That in an of itself is not a racist act, or if it is, then the Huar dishonor themselves by not attacking all “Racist” blood quota. Instead HUAR attacks only heathens, their own people, rather than honorably…

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Why Racism Harms Heathenry

Amanda:

I’ve been having a blog post or two swirling around in my head on this matter ever since that Wild Hunt post. (By the way, I’m that someone he’s referring to when he said, “I did not say, as someone implied, that simply criticizing them was doing so.”) Unfortunately, it’s finals week, and I haven’t had time to sit down and write out a post that does this subject justice (nor was looking forward to dealing with the trolls that might show up). So thank you Sarenth for posting this in the meantime!

I teach in a city that’s over 60% Hispanic, and my students reflect that demographic pretty closely. I wear a Valknut under my shirt every day to work, since I associate Odin with my job as a college professor. Racists are a big reason why I remain deep in the closet about my religion, especially at work. What if one of my students were to find out I was Heathen, start Googling online, and find something like “Wotan vs. Tezcatlipoca”, a blatantly racist essay written by the leader of one of the two biggest Asatru organizations in the United States? What if that student was one of the students who didn’t get as high a grade in my class as he thought he deserved, and then assumes it was because I was harder on him because he’s Hispanic?

Originally posted on Sarenth Odinsson's Blog:

This comment was made on The Wild Hunt recent Pagan Community Notes in response to HUAR calling out Irminfolk as a racist religious group.

“If your definition of the word “hurt” means “Anyone who holds a belief that I don’t like” then I agree, racism hurts people. But of course that’s nonsense. What hurts people are *actions* and *policies* in the public area. A private religion having it’s own bylaws, charter, and mission statement is not hurting anyone. The moment they take those beliefs and try to diminish the rights and freedoms of others (remember you don’t have a right to join any religion you want) then we can chat about hurting others. I’m not surprised at the lack of critical thinking on these posts, it’s pretty standard for the modern Pagan community. And if you read my first post, which sounds like you didn’t, I said “have a right…

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