The Nature of Properties

The modern religion of Asatru — distinct from Heathenry, as I have written in the past. — is reconstructing an ancient religion. This may come as bit of a shock to you, as it did to me, as I had thought Asatru a thoroughly modern, thoroughly neo-pagan expression of basically no theological merit or depth. And it is, but it is also a pretty faithful reconstruction of the state of Scandinavian and Germanic religion as it existed in the Viking Age. Which is to say that Asatru, like the Viking Nordic religion, was a grab bag of half remembered traditions, adoptions from other cultures, and degenerate excuses to largely pursue one's own base passions without having to answer to any kind of higher authority, be it a human or divine. It was the religion of a culture in decline, slowly spinning ever faster and faster down the drain to eventually die out in failure and ridicule. Asatru is all these things, but then again, so was the faith of Vikings at the end of the era.

I bring this up, not because the unifying behavior of Asatru with its ancient counterpart is a continuity of behavior — a Varangian Swede from CE 950 would no more recognize a modern Asatru ceremony than they would an airplane — but rather there is a similar attitude towards what constitutes a religion. For both our Varangian asa-bro and his 21st Century counterpart, religion is a collection of properties that one collects and displays like baseball cards or butterflies, pinned and put on the wall. This kind of cheap and reflexive approach to materialism (as opposed to the spiritual materialism of their great-great-grandfathers) leads to mistaking the properties of a thing with its nature. For the Asa-bro of today, a religion has church buildings, ministers and counselors, church music and ordination, it has recognition in the form of non-profit status and it has newsletters and services and budget meetings and all the things you expect when someone who has grown up in Modern churches thinks about church. Their thought is entirely defined by the idea of the things that a religion has, rather than what it is. The cross and chalice are replaced with hammer and horn, the sermon becomes study group, the scripture, lore.

And that's where it ends. Rather than letting go of these notions of what a church looks like, or how a religion operates, they merely retain the shape and change the colors on the buildings. They seek to find recognition from outside power brokers, saying to them See, we're a real religion! We have a certificate that proves it. However, much like Tywin admonishes to Joffrey, Kings who must proclaim that they are Kings are usually no real Kings at all.

But rather than deep reflection and hard answers to hard questions, they think, "all we have to do is build a hof / get our 501c3 status / formulate an ordination program, and then they'll see. We'll get respect!" But respect doesn't come having those things, but rather from needing them. And do we need a converted building in another state, or a state funded construction project in another country to tell us that what we are doing has meaning and value? For the Asabro, maybe. But for me, the answer to the question of "Why do you believe your crazy religion?" is a hearty "Because fuck you, that's why." I would much rather grow meaning and depth, and people so that we come together and based on our own work, build or convert a building to our communal use. When the need arises, the means will as well. Until then, meeting in our living rooms to talk, in our yards and parks to worship is perfectly fine.

Which is not to say that material culture is not important. It truly is, and I support the efforts of those groups who are looking to not simply have a cheap cow horn they keep for ritual, because that's what you need, but rather give thought and effort to sourcing the best horn they can afford. You don't buy a cheap sword if you need a sword, you buy the best sword you can. It is the need that necessitates the object, not the object necessitating a need.

But I digress, because it isn't simply the material culture that is the problem, it is the entire misunderstanding of why religions have these things. If you chase after these properties, you're never going get to the point where you need them. You'll just have them, and not know what to do with them. And that gives bad actors a chance to swoop in and use them for their own purpose.

Show Comments