One of the most exciting parts of running Elhaz Ablaze for me has been curating our Guest Journal section. Sweyn originally wrote this essay in a Loki-like spirit for a very conservative (retro-)heathen journal which collapsed, as I understand it because of internal politicking, before it was able to publish his paper.

As such it was a surprise when he offered it to us here at Elhaz Ablaze but I knew immediately that we had to publish it.

I won't say too much more by way of introduction - except perhaps that I hope to see a few sparks fly as a result of this little essay.


Heathenry & Modernity
Some informal thoughts from a Heathen Technocrat

Sweyn Plowright

There has been much discussion in recent years of the negative aspects of the modern world. The very word “modernity” has acquired an almost derogatory connotation in some quarters. But what do we mean by “modern”? There are many variations, but essentially we understand it to mean the cultural current revolving around the technological progress following the “Age of Reason” or “the Enlightenment”, usually described as beginning roughly around three centuries ago.

There are also many variations in the way we define “Germanic Heathenism”, but we can broadly agree that it involves seeking spiritual fulfilment in the traditions and literature of our Germanic ancestors. The question now is whether these two forces are compatible. At the risk of sounding heretical to some, I would argue that they are not only compatible, but that modernity is in fact the most successful lineage of our ancestral culture.

Certainly, there are many things we can criticize in the modern world, but by rejecting it wholesale, we not only risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we also neglect our opportunity and responsibility to influence this world. We need to separate the positive key features of the Enlightenment plan from the commercialism, greed, and acculturation that has become a common, but not a necessary, concomitant of modern life.

The important elemental seeds of modernity can be found in the migration of Angles and Saxons to Britain. They brought with them their Heathen Common Law. This treasure of Germanic culture encapsulated the Heathen respect for custom, fairness, and the rights of individuals. Common Law was based on precedent, the accumulated wisdom of previous rulings, which could take local custom into account, while allowing judgements to evolve over time as customs and values changed.

If we look at Roman Civil Law, its focus is on protecting the State and the privileges of its citizens. It is set by legislation, and is relatively rigid. Any examples of fairness were really expedience aimed at keeping order. Citizenship was only granted to those who might be useful to the State, and this gave privileges, not rights. Many non-English speaking countries have legal systems modelled along these lines.

In much of Middle-Eastern history, laws were mostly based on religious strictures and superstitions. Harsh penalties were often inflicted for apparently victimless crimes, particularly for blasphemy. These laws were aimed at enforcing religious authority, and survive today in the Muslim Sharia law. A State practicing such laws will necessarily disadvantage individuals who do not practice the State religion.

By contrast, Germanic law had more focus on victim impact and compensation, redressing the balance or wyrd. English law even developed safeguards to protect individuals from the law, in the form of due process and the presumption of innocence. With the onus on the prosecution to prove guilt, there was a focus on evidence-based inquiry.

It is no accident that the person often considered the founding figure of modernity was an English lawyer. Around 1600ce Sir Francis Bacon was considering the question of the laws of nature. Academics had always approached this from a philosophical perspective. They thought that they could deduce the laws of nature by philosophical ruminations alone. Bacon could see the futility of this approach.

Bacon was also aware of the work of alchemists. They were trying another method to discover the workings of nature. However their experiments were fairly random, with no plan or framework to form and test ideas, they tended to collect unrelated facts by chance, without really understanding what they saw. They were another reason that academics rejected, and looked down upon, the idea of experimentation.

Armed with the pragmatic common sense and experience of the Common Law, Bacon realized that only by combining reason and experiment could the secrets of nature be discovered. He likened the investigation to the questioning of a witness in court. The questions could be framed in terms of experiments, and reason is employed to lead to further questions, to create a consistent and more complete picture. He saw this as the most effective way to free people from being completely at the mercy of nature. Ignorance was the cause of most suffering, and as he put it “knowledge is power”. He was specifically talking about the power to use the knowledge of the laws of nature to improve our situation. This was the beginning of the systematic development of technology based on directed research.

The word “law” comes from the same Germanic root as “to lay”, something that is laid down, or layered. There was a concept of a primal or fundamental layer “orlog”, which consists of those laws that, by definition, can not be broken. Some may think of this as a mystical concept. However, there was no such division between the physical and the mystical for our ancestors, even including Bacon. That artificial divide was a product of Judeo-Christian Gnosticism, which saw the physical world as unclean. Bacon saw natural law as an expression of the divine, much as most Heathens do. He is sometimes portrayed as advocating domination over nature, but if you read his works more fully, this is manifestly untrue. He clearly proposes that understanding, and working with, the laws of nature will allow us to live more comfortably and capably in this world.  

If our ancestors lived a relatively tough life, it was not because they did not value material culture and its advantages. They were obviously proud of the skill of their smiths and shipbuilders. They made the effort to create fine homes and clothing if they could afford it, and traded or raided to create the wealth to do so. We can see this also in their description of the Native Americans as pitifully poor, because they did not possess steel weapons, or wear cloth. Germanic people generally have always been early adopters of technology, and their transition to creators of technology was very natural.

Another aspect of the Common Law and its culture was its sense of fairness and tendency to value the individual. This was kept alive in the stereotypical English expression “it’s just not cricket” if someone takes unfair advantage. We know that an almost fanatical love of fairness is an ancient part of the culture. At the battle of Maldon, the English Earl would not slaughter the Viking army as it crossed a ford. Instead, he waited until they were in a fair position on the field, even though he knew that the odds were against him. He died with all of his men, but became a shining example of English fair play in the epic poem. The idea has not diminished over the centuries. In a recent poll to determine the elements that define the Australian culture, the most popular item by far was the expression “a fair go”.

This concept of fairness is the true origin of the idea of individual rights, and the Western democratic idea of freedom. Because these are so deeply rooted in our culture, we tend to take them as self-evident and universal values, but some non-Western countries have argued that human rights are not self-evident, and that they are an example of Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. This argument is particularly heard from those countries under scrutiny for their mistreatment of ethnic minorities, or other groups with views different from those of the political authorities.

It seems that the Heathen notions of freedom extended to religion. Heathens did not recruit members, and they do not seem to have disadvantaged those of other beliefs. When Christianity came along, Heathens lived quite comfortably along side Christian neighbours, and even spouses. It was not until the Church gained the support of the ruling powers, and revealed their fundamental intolerance for other faiths, that Heathen resistance was aroused (alas too late).

Christianity suppressed alternative ideas wherever it could. It was not until the emergence of English Enlightenment thinkers like Locke, and his greatest Continental fan, Voltaire, that it was possible to argue that persons should only be prosecuted for their actions, not for their beliefs. These concepts of religious tolerance were held in high value by the creators of the American Constitution. The independence of the State from religious interference required the institution of secular government. It is this that gives Heathens the legal right to practice without persecution or disadvantage.

Thomas Jefferson saw the importance of this separation of Church and State, including the role of English Common Law as one of the few surviving ancient systems independent of Christianity. When Christians tried to claim a moral victory by stating that the legal system was based on Christian rules, he refuted this by pointing out its Heathen origins.

“ For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, ….  This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century.  But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686.  Here, then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it.” Jefferson, 1814.

In many ways, the values developed by the Enlightenment thinkers can be seen as a real renaissance of the Heathen Germanic culture of freedom, law, pragmatic reasonableness, and individual rights. The success of this culture is obvious in the way it has become that basis of the values of the free world. The English language spread along with it, and has become the language of international trade, science, and politics to a large degree.

So, while it is worthwhile connecting with nature and our ancestors, camping out and dressing in Viking gear at feasts, it is not necessary or productive to make that the major focus of one’s life. In the larger modern world, a world of our own making, we need to be participants. We need to be there to safeguard and carry forward the legacy and values of our Heathen ancestors as they have come down to us in the form of modern democratic freedoms. Something our ancestors were always prepared to fight for.

Having served in the military as a Combat Engineer in counter terrorist roles, having worked in various civilian security positions, and for the last couple of decades as a network engineer in large corporate and government IT environments, working in network security and network forensics, I have come to appreciate that there are many who seek to undermine our way of life, the Enemies of Freedom are not just a paranoid bogeyman invented by the Government to keep us in line.

We all know that governments have their own agendas, but they have a primary duty to protect their citizens. If the very measures they take to combat this threat should lead to a restriction of our liberties, it is up to us to us all to make such measures less necessary. Our own complacency and lack of involvement gives governments little choice. Do we accept the inconvenience of increased surveillance, or the inconvenience of occasional bombings in our cities, and in what balance?

Education is the key, both at home and abroad. Ignorance and complacency makes our citizens look frivolous and decadent. Our relatively easy lifestyle is envied by less fortunate people, and so becomes a threat to dictatorships and religious regimes, whose people may be tempted by ideas of democracy. We are painted as evil seducers, and the people are not educated enough to question that. This, in large part, motivates the hatred behind attacks by extremists.

Governments and corporations have much to answer for in the spread of mistrust and ignorance amongst their citizens. The UK played down the BSE threat. China did the same with SARS. The US & Australia until recently have largely ignored the evidence for global warming. The tobacco industry covered up the glaring evidence of a lung cancer link for years. This not only shakes public confidence in any kind of “authority”, a far more serious consequence is that it creates distrust and misunderstanding about evidence based knowledge itself. This encourages scientific illiteracy, and leaves people vulnerable to the various cults of unreason, pseudo-science, New-Age-ism, and fundamentalism.

It is a damning indictment that in the most powerful nation of the free world, nearly half the population does not accept the idea of evolution.  After a century and a half of intense debate and observation, evolution much as Darwin described it, is perhaps the most solid, tried, tested, and easily understood process we can witness in nature. Yet ironically, most of these Christian Creationists are quick to label Muslim fundamentalists as backward for their unenlightened views.

The rise of these and other forms of irrationalism pose a real threat, not only to our Enlightenment heritage, but ultimately to our freedom to practice the older parts of our heritage. The plain fact is that we can not separate our Heathen heritage from its Enlightenment descendant. Our Enlightenment heritage is our connection with our ancestral culture, and the frame of modernity in which most of us must practice our Heathenry.

There is a line of thought that we must somehow erase the experience of the last few centuries, and regress to an idealized vision of tribal society. That we may somehow shut out the real world and form “Asatru Amish” type communities. As nice as it may be for the privileged few to use log fires for heating and cooking, this would not be ecologically responsible or sustainable on a larger scale, adding to deforestation and pollution. But apart from the practicalities, such isolationism is more likely to lead to an out-of-touch and cultish form of Asatru, against which our next generation is bound to rebel. This may be the right path for a minority of Heathens, but it is not one that is likely to be productive for most.

In reality, we can never escape the influence of the wider world. We just have to adapt to it, do our bit to change its less wholesome aspects, and lead by example in keeping to our own standards and traditions. The Enlightenment framework is one that can accommodate most cultures. Only those that actively discourage democratic freedoms will have trouble adapting. In this respect, there is no reason that we can not continue to value cultural diversity and tradition, within the overarching framework of modern democracy, our own Enlightenment heritage. This is particularly true for Heathens, who share the same Germanic cultural roots as the Enlightenment.
Having a science background, and working in a high tech industry, I used to have some trouble reconciling this life with that of the heroic ancestors I admire. However, in their pioneering spirit, and forward looking enthusiasm, I can now see a deeper resonance. In the founding of England, Iceland, and America, we can see distinct parallels in the aspirations of exploration, freedom, fairness, and a better future. While I treasure my own mail coat and axe as fully functional reminders of my ancestors, I am happy to offer my inherited attributes of tactical cunning, and implacable ruthless determination, using modern weapons to help neutralize the threats to the freedom of my descendants.

Most of us have used the Internet to make Heathen ideas more widely available. Few of us have ridden a horse to gatherings. Technology and secular government have allowed Germanic Heathenry to flourish, and we have our Enlightenment ancestors to thank.

In the end, there are many ways we can be true to our Heathen heritage, but for those of us like me, who happen to be Heathen technocrats, be proud in the knowledge that you are fulfilling an important part of our cultural heritage.

Further Reading:

Porter, R. Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World. Penguin. 2000.
Henry, J. Knowledge is Power: Francis Bacon and the Method of Science. Icon Books. 2002.
Kramnick, I. The Portable Enlightenment Reader. Penguin. 1995.
Francis Bacon: The Essays. Penguin Classics. 1985.
John Locke: Political Writings. Penguin Classics. 1993.

 A reflection of a country’s susceptibility to irrationalism? Note that the Scandinavians are the most free of this problem. Turkey is the only modern nation to rate worse than the US.


Sweyn is a leading light in modern heathenism/Asatru. His books True Helm and The Rune Primer are both remarkable works and he also runs Rune-Net. Sweyn's reflections in Asatru/Asafalse on Tony Looker's essay Hammer Forged have profound implications for the development of heathenism in the modern age.

- Henry


Asatru / Asafalse - Sweyn Plowright
Fabricating a Tradition
My fellow ex-Steward Tony and I finally swapped views on our experiences recently, having both held our silence, even from each other, since departing the RG [Rune Gild]. We were both appointed Regional Stewards of the Gild by Edred around 1990, and both left the Gild after 10 years as regional leaders. Tony was Steward of UK, and I was Steward of the South Pacific Region.
Throughout that decade we communicated on a friendly level. During a few months in London in 1993, I had time to get to know him in person. Then in late 1996, we caught up with each other at Edred's house in Texas for a few days. During this whole period we never discussed our deep misgivings. Although we left RG under different circumstances, and followed different roads since then, when at last we exchanged views frankly, we found them to be remarkably similar.
Tony had written Hammer Forged a year ago, intending to submit it for publication in an Asatru journal, but thought it best to withdraw it after realising that it would not be well received. He sent me a copy of Hammer Forged after receiving a copy of the Runic Primer. We both felt some relief to know that we were not alone in our conclusions.
At first reading, Tony's essay may look like an attack on Asatru, but closer inspection reveals a fairly accurate summary of the state of things thus far. His tone is perhaps less optimistic than mine, but this is understandable as I have had the advantage of my positive experiences with Rune-Net, AET, and Northvegr. However, he makes the point that "All those who are genuinely and honestly engaged in this endeavour deserve our wholehearted support and appreciation". He then goes on to question the health of much of Asatru in its current manifestation.
At the heart of the problem lies the fact that we are building on very tenuous sources. This is not necessarily a problem in itself. I am sure the early revivalists were quite aware of their limitations. However, after three decades, a great deal of questionable dogma has crept in. Worse than this, the leading personalities, having given themselves grand and outlandish titles, have come to believe their own press releases. I suspect that it started to go wrong in the early days of the revival when the focus was on creating a church-like hierarchy. I wrote on one of the early e-lists in 1992 that Heathens never had a church structure and I wondered why they wanted to go that way. Lew Stead replied that he could not see why I would even ask the question, as the whole point was to create a Heathen church.
After many alternative hierarchies, splits, alliances, and ideological battles, we are gradually moving toward a more satisfying tribalist model. This gives me cause for optimism, as we can now see a way to settle into a more natural network of groups, each with its own subculture inspired by the ancestral traditions. We need not descend into New Age eclecticism to achieve this, but we must be honest with ourselves. There are no real authorities, despite the self-proclaimed prophets still desperate for followers. As Tony points out, we must accept that much of Asatru as it stands is not verifiable as ancient, it can only ever be at best an educated and inspired interpretation of the limited sources.
In the early 1980s, I was roundly attacked by Wiccans for questioning their claims of being an old religion, let alone "THE Old Religion". In the 1990s very few Wiccans were still pushing that myth. Unlike the Wiccans, we can argue that our chimera is at least cobbled together from a reasonably consistent cultural source, and that of our own ancestors. But, Asatru has not yet undergone the reality check served to the Wiccans in the 80s. Perhaps it is time to admit that there is more scope for variety in the Northern Traditions than the pedants would have us believe.
Another problem has been the influence of armchair philosophers and ideologues. Philosophy is perhaps good exercise for the mind, and formal logic is a useful skill, but it has been of precious little practical value to Asatru thus far. Too often philosophy has served to replace action rather than to inform it. Too often it has been little more than a tool to persuade the more gullible into rather distorted views of the world. This pseudo-intellectualism is another trend we must be wary of. It is doubtful that our ancestors would have been impressed with the bombastic conceits of the ideologues.
The issue of personality cults is undoubtedly that which both Tony and I find the most disturbing, having both had some experience with such. Some leaders give themselves outrageously grandiose titles and gather a group of followers around them. There is always an element of paranoia involved: "us against the world", "they will not understand us", etc. They set themselves up as prophets of a divine revelation of the elder gods, and demand complete authority. Any who question this insanity are themselves accused of having an unsound view of reality. Often the politics of personality are mixed with other unhealthy political agendas. Such groups, with their potential for extremism, are the greatest threat to the relationship of Asatru to the wider community.
No doubt some of those who read these essays will be outraged that we seem to cast doubt upon cherished notions. But if we want to claim superiority to the fantasy New Age "traditions", we really need to take notice of how much fabricating is going on in our own camp. The problem is not that there is innovation, but that inventions are pushed by their authors as "authentic", and often with their own agendas in mind. We need only take a look at the rubbish ranging from New Age escapism to Neo-Satanic mumbo-jumbo being peddled as "runic knowledge" today. I agree with Tony that we will never have a genuine reconstruction, too much has been lost. But we can have an authentic revival, provided we are honest, and apply the ancestral imagery to our modern lives. The only authentic tradition is a living one.
Some personalities will have more influence than others, but this should not be taken as authority. Perhaps it is time to break away from the self appointed gurus, and their narrow doctrinaire approaches. The traditions will evolve and adapt, or they will die out and return to the history books, but the ancestral symbolism will remain in the psyche to manifest naturally within our culture. Asatru has been through the construction phase. There is plenty of material to work from. Now we need to move forward and make it real, as individuals, as groups, and as a cultural movement. We can not live in the past, as such escapism will relegate us to a fringe curiosity. We need to honour the ancestors from where we stand now.


I was fortunate to meet Tony a few years ago and I must say his deep wisdom has had a huge influence on my heathenism. Hammer Forged, along with its companion essay Asatru/Asafalse by Sweyn Plowright, represents a shining clarion for heathens and Asatruar worldwide.

- Henry

Hammer Forged - Anthony Looker
Fabricating a Tradition
Copyright, Anthony Looker, March 2001
Mission Impossible
It is presumed that many of the readers are concerned with the revival and restoration of Odinism, also known as Asatru, or the northern tradition. This refers to the practice of the religious and magical system of beliefs found in Northern Europe and Scandinavia before the onset of Christianity. Clearly, some feel that they have a vocation or mission to fulfil in this respect. Undoubtedly, it is a deeply challenging exercise, which is occasionally rewarding, but is it worthwhile too? All those who are genuinely and honestly engaged in this endeavour deserve our wholehearted support and appreciation. However, it is a task that is doomed to uncertainty at best and contains numerous pitfalls for the unwary at worst. For most this will probably amount to no more than wasted time and effort. However, for a few it may lead to psychological problems, or recruitment into New Age cults masquerading as Odinist organizations, or possibly both.
The Underlying Problem
There is considerable uncertainty involved with recovering our ancestral beliefs and wisdom, assuming it is viable at all. It is not how far we can go in our efforts, nor even should we attempt to do so. Quite simply, it is knowing if we have succeeded to any extent. The underlying problem, facing those striving to reconstruct the lost pagan religion of the North, is that it disappeared long ago and no comprehensive record of it remains. There is, of course, a wealth of material in the form of the Eddas and Sagas, as well as contemporary accounts by Christian clerics and so forth, which provide us with a glimpse into the lost world of the North. Unfortunately, regardless of how much we may be able to glean from these sources we cannot know for certain that we have arrived at an accurate understanding of the tradition, as it once was. The reason for this is that none of them represent personal accounts or testimonies by actual exponents of the elder faith; they were all written up either by rank outsiders or else hundreds of years after the people and events which they describe. For example, no matter how sympathetic and sincere Snorri Sturlusson may have been with his rendering and melding of oral tradition we cannot be certain of its accuracy; indeed, we may wonder if Snorri himself was entirely sure of his facts. Even runestones, although primary source material in some cases, turn out to be of limited help to us here. The vast majority of these inscriptions are either very simple or banal statements, such as: "So and so put up this stone in memory of his father", or else they contain information so obfuscated and cryptic as to be quite unfathomable or meaningless. This may all be very fascinating and certainly helps to fuel our imagination but is useless as far as providing us with any clear information.
The Living Dead
Supposedly, a careful examination and interpretation of runic inscriptions and early texts underpins the present-day northern tradition. The impression conveyed is that Odinism is authentic and historically accurate; when it has in fact been cobbled together from a variety of sources, both ancient and modem. History is after all more of an art than a science, no matter how well crafted. It is subjective by nature and in the absence of a transcendent, overarching, objective viewpoint that we can refer to - with the possible exception of that contained within the allegory of myth - there is only the version according to individual historians. And, unless you happen to be Adolf Hitler standing on trial, there is no eternal court of history we can make an appeal to, either. Incidentally, it is worth recalling that the German messiah considered the ancient Germanic gods unsuitable objects of worship for the modem age, as related by Hermann Rauschning. The wonderful tapestry of make-believe history conjured up by the image-makers of the Third Reich was, it seems, intended to herald the advent of a new spiritual order and not the triumphant return of the old heathen gods. Essentially, all history is reconstruction no matter how truthfully it may relate the story of past events. History cannot bring back the past, it can only convey an impression of it for us. Just as marshalling the facts in sequential order, alone, does not constitute history; so, methodically exhuming elements of past practice is not enough to reanimate a dead tradition. Unfortunately, some Odinists' own forensic analysis has come to resemble pathology: more concerned with the fate of the dead than that of the living. They may learn a lot about the nature and world of the deceased but that does not necessarily help us to gain an understanding and mastery over our own lives. In answer to those who might say that the dead are worth more than the living - on the basis that most of the living are worthless - that may be so but alas for us their tradition died with them.
Restoration Project
We may well ask why anyone would want to revive a dead religion, in the same way we might question the merit of restoring an old car. Drawing on this analogy, the response might be that just as mass-produced vehicles do not appeal to everyone, so established religion has failed to satisfy all spiritual needs. Accordingly, many of us profoundly alienated and dissatisfied with what is available have sought solace elsewhere. A few have turned to the venerable faith of our Anglo-Saxon and Norse ancestors for inspiration. However, in the case of Asatru, there is no book of heathen common prayer, no manual of shamanistic practice, no magical grimoire even - at least not until several centuries later - to guide the modem adherent. Likewise, for anyone attempting to forge a 'Philosophy of the Hammer' there is no 'Treatise or Reflections on the Nature of Asatru' to provide them with a lead. Unlike ancient Greece, the northern world never made the transition from mythology to philosophy. Anyway, who is qualified to lead such a project and what authorization have they to do so?
False Prophets?
There is no monopoly on the truth and no individual or group is the fount of all wisdom where the (northern) tradition is concerned. Although some seem to suggest just that and others appear to be gullible enough to believe it. Anyone conceited enough to argue that his is the definitive version of Odinism will soon find that he has made a rod for his own back. This will invariably tend to be controversial and divisive, especially amongst the Odinist community which is notorious for its endless feuds, rifts and schisms. Ironically, those same hierophants who have forged ahead with reinstating the northern tradition, scornful of Christian dogma, have ended up propounding an equally hidebound and dirigiste creed of their own. A few vainglorious characters have added insult to injury by arbitrarily arrogating authority to themselves. But, they face a constant struggle to convince even their own followers, let alone anyone else, of the legitimacy of their usurpation. Further, their claim looks hollow and threadbare in the absence of the sanction that an unbroken, living, tradition could confer upon them. In any case, the self-appointed prophets and cult leaders of neo-Germanic paganism do not know, any more than the rest of us, exactly what constituted this lost faith.
A Hidden Agenda
Some might say that it does not matter if certain people have appropriated the tradition for their own ends and that it is not really suitable for modem man anyway. Further, does it really matter if we don't relate to the runes in exactly the same way as the runemasters of old? After all, people consult the I Ching quite happily without having to abide strictly by the method used during the Sung dynasty. Ralph Blum has managed to do very nicely indeed out of (mis)casting the runes, having tossed aside the time-honoured fashion of doing so! We may regard him, in our own opinion, as a charlatan and his system as being completely bogus but - unlike certain others - he has never made any pretence to authenticity. Since traditions constantly mutate and renew themselves anyway, a conscious reconstruction may turn out to be little different from the product of spontaneous and natural evolution. The concern is not that certain individuals have hatched up Odinism but that they have exploited their knowledge and skills in order to establish something akin to a personality cult, with all the dubious qualities which that term implies. It seems that no matter how much they try to deny it, those who take on the trappings and status of a guru or grand master - either by accident or design - almost inevitably will come to be regarded, and come to regard themselves, as such. The more that people claim they are specially gifted with some unique spiritual insight and occult powers, the greater the suspicion grows that they are merely false claimants operating a hidden agenda. They can end up as complete characatures of themselves, negating any genuine abilities and spiritual qualities they may have once possessed.
Reconstruction or Fiction?
A number of so-called revivals of Odinism have been started in recent years. Undoubtedly some of them have been carefully and tirelessly researched with apparent skill and dedication but no matter how great the effort expended and the resources deployed, they are all flawed in one important and fundamental sense. In order to reconstruct something, anything in fact, there has to be an accurate model or original design to work with. For instance, to enable an engineer, architect or archaeologist to effect a valid reconstruction of something they must have a clear and complete example of the original artifact, blueprint or plan, ideally. Failing this there can be no accurate reconstruction, an exact replica true in every detail. What there will be in its place is either an approximation or else an artist's impression - in other words a construct or fiction. This also applies to any reworking of Odinism. Whatever else they may have left to us, what we do not possess is a full and complete exposition - a mission statement - with regard to our forebears' worldview.
Stone gods
There is a distinction between dreaming the myths onward and attempting to duplicate a vanished tradition. The key to unlocking the secrets of our pagan past rests with our mythopoeic imagination, where the archetypal currents, which generate the myths are constantly at work deep within the psyche. The myths ebb and flow through individual lives and the lifetime of nations like the changing seasons. Traditions follow the same pattern, sometimes undergoing a dormant phase whilst at other times enjoying a high summer after a prolonged absence and winter hibernation. However, their mysterious reappearance is seldom if ever in quite the same form as before. As with any organic system, a degree of metamorphosis accompanies their life cycle. The outer trappings may have faded beyond immediate recognition but the framework remains the same, embedded in the northern psyche like the molecular structure of a crystal. In this uncertain and haphazard way a tradition may survive indefinitely with greater or lesser degrees of continuity. The challenge for us is to find a way to integrate these potent archetypal elements and symbols, without being psychologically overwhelmed by them in the process. This paradigm has been outlined before: Jung's essay on Wotan likens the Odinic stream to a dry riverbed awaiting the waters of irrigation; a century earlier the poet Heinrich Heine alluded to the old stone gods slumbering in the dust of history, awaiting their moment to reawaken and cast off the slough of a millennium of Christianity.
An Insurmountable Obstacle
Despite these various seemingly insurmountable obstacles one or two pioneers have forged ahead with a revamped northern tradition based upon a vague and speculative notion of the past. It is a heroic attempt to satisfy a deepseated desire; as clearly there is considerable nostalgia for the old Germanic faith and a yearning to regain a symbolic cosmos based on the Norse myths. Curiously, the absence of the restraint and check that a prevailing, extant tradition might otherwise impose affords us boundless freedom of opportunity: the scope to innovate and experiment to our hearts' content. In this way, we may arrive at something close to the lost tradition; equally, we may end up inventing an entirely new one. We will never know. In the end, short of abandoning this particular path altogether, we are left with no choice other than to follow something that is largely unsubstantiated and of questionable validity.