Atheist Asatruar

You know, one of my favorite blogs is Secular Blasphemy. Some have remarked at how surprising this is, given my religious proclivities, as a pretty strident atheist authors SB. I don’t think there’s any contradiction at all, and while I certainly don’t consider myself one, I believe it’s perfectly possible to be an atheist Asatrurar.

First off, most of the voices of atheism these days tend to direct their critique against Christianity or Islam more or less specifically. It’s a lot harder for them to go directly after hard polytheistic religions such as Heathenry, simply because we don’t have a sacred canon to refute.

We will freely admit that the gods themselves did not dictate the Eddas, and that the Sagas are not recordings of real history. We know that some of the sagas were probably entirely fictional. We understand that our myths can be interpreted as metaphor or analogy without doing any violence to their core meaning.

Furthermore, it is in the very nature of Heathenry itself that our gods and goddesses do not exist outside of nature – they are part of nature. Thus, our deities are not “supernatural”. They are born, they get married and have children, they fight and bitch, wheel and deal, lie, cheat, steal, love, give, play games, get drunk, play games and file lawsuits. And they die. They also demonstrate tremendous courage, and a loyal diligence that boggles the imagination. Some are paragons of honor, some craftsmen beyond compare.

There is wisdom in the Eddas and sagas – the wisdom of men, perhaps inspired men, perhaps inspired by the gods. Or perhaps not.

Among Heathens you will find, rather than a monolith of belief, a patchwork quilt. Some of us believe that the Shining Gods and Goddesses exist as literal, corporeal beings; others believe that they’re best viewed as a metaphor, as the agreed collective belief of a tribe or a people.

There are Asatrurar who hold that Asatru itself is not a “religion” at all – and that our gods are our ancestors, literally.

And there are, and apparently always have been, atheist Asatrurar.

In the sagas a group of men, warriors, is reported as having spurned the gods, preferring to trust in their own “might and main”. Some say these references are a Christian interpolation, an attempt on the part of the monks to make their ancestors less Heathen. But I think it shows a remarkable consistency with the evolution of modern Heathenry.

These men would still practice the religion, at least to the extent of boasting in sumbel of their deeds and their worthy ancestors. When these men fell in battle, their skalds would still compose the funeral oration and poetically send their souls to Valhalla – despite their avowed atheism.

Why would someone who doesn’t believe in the gods want to be Asatru? The same reason that those of us who do believe in the gods want to be Heathen: for the wisdom, for the community and the “Folk”, and for the cultural context it adds to our lives. Asatru promises no generic “after life” experience – our beliefs in this area are as varied as our beliefs in other areas. Most would hold to a “rebirth” or “Hel” theory of the survival of the soul, but many will make scientific arguments in attempting to back these positions, some of which actually aren’t bad. Most of us don’t really pay all that much attention to the “after life”, as we’re concerned with the right way to live this one.

So I don’t consider Jan (the author over at Secular Blasphemy) an “enemy” because he’s an atheist: I consider him a fellow traveler! It helps a bit, I think, that he’s a Norwegian – some of the old ways still live in the cultural psyche. He’s a smart cookie, and keeps a sharp blog.

He even acknowledges (in Some Thoughts On The Origin Of Religious Ideas) that his primary target is anti-scientific monotheism. And Heathenry is neither anti-scientific nor monotheist.

Atheists don’t threaten Asatru at all – it's perfectly possible to be both.


Copyright 2003 by Daithi M Haxton


Hrolf Kraki's Saga, Ch. 48:
"King Hrolf gave no heed to this. His thoughts were now more on his pomp and splendour and giving and all the valour that lay in his breast, and on how to provide for all those who had come so that his glory would spread the furthest, and he had everything that might enhance the honour of a king in this world. But it is not recorded that King Hrolf and his champions had ever worshipped the gods. Rather, they believed in their own might and main. Because at that time the holy faith had not yet been preached here in the northern lands, and so they had little knowledge of their Maker, they who lived in the north."

from St. Olaf's Saga in Heimskringla:
"Gauka-Thórir answered, saying that he was neither Christian nor heathen. 'Nor have we fellows any other belief than trust in our own power and success, and that proves to be enough for us.' "The king replied, 'A great pity that men of such prowess do not believe in Christ, their maker.'

from the Saga of Ólafr Tryggvason:
"Bárð was the name of a powerful chieftain in Upplönd; he would not submit to the King, nor embrace the religion which he taught. The emissaries whom the King had sent to him failed to return. There was no temple on Bárð's estate, and the King had no reason to believe that he was devout in his worship of the gods. Wishing to make a final attempt to convert Bárð,Olaf sent the Icelander, Thorvald Tasaldi to him. Declaring his religious beliefs, Bárð said: 'I believe neither in idols nor demons; I have travelled from land to land, and I have come across giants as well as black men, but they have not got the better of me. Therefore, I have believed in my might and strength.'" (trua á mátt sitt ok megin)

in the Saga of Finnbogi the Strong, the hero, on being asked about his beliefs by the Emperor of Byzantium, is supposed to have said, "I believe in myself" (ek trúi a sjálfan mik).