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Theodism & Asatru

By: Garman Lord


Wassail All!
Garman here.

>But this brings me to a question: what is the difference between tribalist Asatru and Greater Theodism? Seems to me that both are somewhat between the extremes of Higher Theodism and "Asatru Classic" (to use Gaman's term). Is the only difference the relationship between the local group and the king of Higher Theodism?

Perhaps I can answer that.

For one thing, I don't think most people consider Asatru and Theodism to be really the same religion, and Greater Theodism is really just an authentic form of Theodism, as defined in THE WAY OF THE HEATHEN, that can nonetheless be practiced solitarily and/or kinglessly, as the individual may choose... but which doesn't really make it Asatru, and is the real reason why the word "Asatru" occurs nowhere in the book. Many Asatruers find nothing to fault in WAY OF and may often even praise it, but that is only because of Asatru's tradition of individualism, which generally prefers to impose no dogmatic theological criterion upon individual Asatruers, and to leave theological issues open as matters for the judgment of individual conscience... thus leaving any Asatruer free to praise or blame in any case, as he may personally see fit. At the same time, few Asatruers, however much they might approve of the particulars of Greater Theodism, would be tempted to call Greater Theodism Asatru.

Both Theodism and Asatru are fairly strictly defined religious forms, and are far enough apart in essence and substance to require preliminary negotiated adjustments of thew each way in order for them to occasionally be practiced together on the same ground, as sometimes happens. In particular, even Greater Theodism, though it requires no sacral king, nonetheless does require a special religious regard for the institution of sacral kingship itself, something not only fairly unusual in Asatru, but even regarded as invalid or heretical in some quarters even of Asatru Classic. Meanwhile, it is important to note that there is no political connection between Greater Theodism and the High Theodish Rice or Kingship, which is why, although the institution of sacral kingship is defined and discussed in WAY OF THE HEATHEN, no issue of actual sworn troth with a sitting sacral king is raised or even mentioned.

By contrast, Asatru Classic has been from the beginning a religious form that, theologically and epistemologically, rarely strays perceptibly from the Norse/Icelandic EDDA/saga corpus, and tends in fact to scorn or even condemn any practice that cannot be substantiated out of that corpus, and in fact even certain practices which _can_ be substantiated from it, as non-authentic, or at least not Asatru. Asatru is also highly ideological, which is how some concepts that can indeed be validated from that corpus (eg., sacral kingship) nonetheless end up out of Asa-court, epistemologically, as ideologically too inconvenient to modern Asatru's larger vision, generally seen by Asatru as necessarily somewhat different from the vision and purposes of the historical past. Specifically, Asatru to this day remains faithfully wedded to certain traditions and principles that were important, though not always cognitively coherent or compatible, ideas of its earliest formative stages in the early 'seventies: Romanticism, Democracy, Egalitarianism, Cultural Coherency, the Cult of Radical Individualism, and a broad-band capacity to bear extraneous ideological freight, amongst others.

Most of these ideas began as morals drawn at one time or another from the Norse/Icelandic corpus itself, which today may strike even many Asatruers themselves as naive, until one remembers that other thinkers besides Asatruers, even including scholars, have sometimes drawn these very same morals from that very same corpus. Meanwhile, important as these concepts and principles still today remain to most of Asatru Classic, they are all ideas completely foreign to, and absent from, the epistemology of Theodish Belief.

Similarly, Asatru tends to operate on a regular Law Code/Althing system, in which the assembled folk judge, decide and amend matters of law, with the aid of Law-Speakers, by democratic, often representational, political processes. Theodish Belief, by contrast, is lawless, and has no regular Althing system or popular representation. Theodish Belief has the institution of slavery, sometimes seen even in Greater Theodism, but nonexistent in Asatru. Theodish Belief is highly and regularly exclusive, always carefully considering and often turning down peoples' petitions to become members. Asatru is, if not completely inclusive, at least fairly non-exclusive, and pretty much anyone can become an Asatruer simply by calling himself one.

Drawing as exclusively as Asatru does from the N./Icel. canon, Old Norse has come over time to be seen as the quasi-official Asatru liturgical language, to the extent that Asatru ever does use any other language than Modern English, despite the resentment occasioned by such cooption amongst contemporary native Icelandic Asatruers. In Theodism, by contrast, the tendency is much more toward using the elder tongue of the individual's own blood ancestors, occasionally making Theodish ritual a veritable Tower of Babel of Germanic tongues old and new, though in fact Old Norse is not commonly heard or used, people of Norse extraction being more naturally and usually attracted to Asatru than to Theodism.

Important to most Asatruers is the ability to import personal ideologies into their religious troth, and the reason for the extreme range of ideological diversity featured across the Asatru community is entirely in this capacity for easily editing one's religious epistemology into closer compatibility with his personal ideological agenda. Theodish Belief, by contrast, is ideologically neutral and never adaptable to any extraneous ideologies at all, and entirely a religio-cultural phenomenon in much the same sense as Asatru is essentially an ideological phenomenon. Where Theodism is, accordingly, both culturally rich and culturally incoherent, Asatru is culturally quite thin, by Theodish standards, but culturally highly uniform and coherent.

Theodism is, sociologically, an entirely oath-bound community, operating by certain set standards to which the important business of oath-swearing is regularly and officially held. Asatru, by contrast, does not hold oath swearing to be of particular sociological importance, and in many forms tends rather to avoid the convention altogether. As important to Theodism as its oath-swearing is its regular cultus of the sanctions and impositions of Outlawry. Asatru, by contrast, does not outlaw, nor even respect or approve of such sanctions and impositions when others may do so, in any regular universal way.

Ethically, Asatru propounds its "Nine Noble Virtues," and is traditionally militant-minded, warlike and adversarial by temperament. Theodism propounds instead its "Three Wynns," is non-warlike or "vanic," non-adversarial, and instead operates entirely under its dictum of "Freedom of Conscience and a Right Good Will." Theodish Belief regularly practices blood sacrifice, a feature sometimes even seen in Greater Theodism, but which has never been regularly or successfully a feature of Asatru, and which in fact most Asatruers do not approve of. Such differences run so deep and fundamental as to make it very difficult to class Theodism and Asatru as the same religion in any but the broadest imaginable sense, even though they worship roughly the same ethnic pantheon, in sometimes similar ways, and both claim derivation from the same historically based religious corpus. Most people find any such sense to be far too broad to be dialectically useful, and some on both sides have even occasionally asserted that comparing Asatru and Theodism is about as meaningful as comparing Buddhism and Voudun.

Other differences, however, run even deeper, and foremost of those is the Theodish "cult of the sacral community," as contrasted with Asatru's "cult of the sacral individual," meaning, of course, every Asatru individual, in terms of his presumed direct conscientious connection with godhead. In Theodism, the object of heathen religion is to create and maintain a valid compact between godhead and a heathen mortal community, usually by the installation of some chosen member of it, such as a king, into a sacral office charged with serving in his office and person as the conduit of the gods' luck into the weal of the entire community as a community, regardless of the weal or lack thereof of any individual within it, and thus sparing the gods the impossible complications and chronic annoyance of having to deal with a community as an incoherent collection of individuals, in matters of whole community weal. This is not seen, of course, as in any private way interfering with the presumed relationship between an individual and the gods under his own rooftree; religious sacral First-Functionality is seen as more or less of a public "civil service" function. The great difficulty for the community with such a compact, of course, is finding a suitable king, i.e., someone acceptable as such to gods and men alike.

From the Theodish point of view, what looks so odd about Asatru practice is the idea of a "community" of "individuals;" i.e., a "community" that is all Second-Function, with never any real First or Third. Asatru, however, doesn't see it that way at all, but rather holds every man as inherently entirely responsible for his own "sacrality" and relationship with godhead, and tends to regard the idea of investing any one mortal man and personality with special sacral significance, together with its attendant personal power and privilege, as inherently repugnant, not to say "cultish." Accordingly, where Theodish community is structured and inevitably highly coherent and purposeful, Asatru is generally content to accept communal catch-as-catch-can incoherency and directional drift as nothing worse than the price one pays to preserve individual freedom of expression. To Theodsmen, of course, that price is inevitably way too high, and, religiously, amounts to burning down the house to get a slice of toast. It is community, not individualism, that is really the hard thing to do, and really the whole point, after all. It has the debility of, essentially, fostering mainly a too-often wayward, impure, undisciplined lowest-common-denominator class heathenry, and the other Theodish word for that kind of "non-communal" community is "luckless."

In these kinds of considerations, we can doubtless see why the relationship between Asatru and Theodism has always been, and will very likely always be, at best, somewhat conflicted and schizophrenic. The essential values systems involved are just too fundamentally different. In each case, the higher you go in the leadership, the more consensus you find between aetts, in that the best thinkers on both sides realize that both Asatru and Theodism are flawed in their own different ways, ways it is not easy for even the greatest leaders to fix, and for which the only remedy may well be a good deal more history under our belts than the Reawakening community has accumulated to date. It is relatively easy for the higher ups, aware as they are of each others' special political problems and limitations, to find common ground, maintain dialogue and get along together. At the same time, the farther you go down toward the grass roots on either side, the wider the gulf becomes of alienation, animosity, contempt, and sectarian mistrust and misgiving. I hope, Steve, thoughtful a man as you are, that you won't be too annoyed at the tedious anatomical length and detail I have seen fit to go into here in attempting to answer what you probably thought at the time was a pretty simple question!