Pagan faith gaining strength behind bars

This has been all over the wires today, and noted by other bloggers - the Wildhunt Weblog is pretty typical of the general "pagan community" response. Where do I start on this one?

Or maybe that should be "which one do I start on?" - you see, there are several different versions floating around, all attributed to Kristen Gelineau of the Associated Press. So let's look at all of them collectively, and try to make some sense out of it. I've linked the first one I found here, but will be referring to some of the others in quotes below, so bear with me - this is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.

Let's start with the presented "theology" of Asatru. I wasn't aware we really had one, actually, but I've only been in this since the late 1980's, so maybe I've missed something.

But tension was brewing among the Ironwood Kindred, as the men were known in the Augusta Correctional Center. Inmate Michael Lenz thought Brent Parker had committed blasphemy. And for that, Lenz believed, his fellow inmate must pay.

Uh, nope. Not even. This is no such thing as "blasphemy" in modern heathenry. And there's only one mention of it in relation to the Shining Gods and Goddesses in the lore, and that's when Iceland was converting and a Christian fellow stated that he thought Freya was a bitch, whereupon he was called out for blasphemy by a heathen thingman. This was written over 250 years after the events it depicted, by a monk.

One entire poem in body of work we call Lore is devoted to Loki "blaspheming" the other gods. This was quite a popular poetic form, called a flyting, or insult contest. In fact they're still kinda popular in some circles, like, of, say, the the roast.

But it gets worse.

The murder for which this sot is going to die was committed at the foot of the harrow:

A pagan religion that some experts say can be interpreted as encouraging violence is gaining popularity among prison inmates, one of whom is scheduled to be executed this week for killing a fellow prisoner at the foot of an altar.

If these guys had bothered actually reading or studying the lore, they would have understood that the harrow is a frithstead - a holy place of peace. Sometimes even bringing a weapon to the frithstead was enough to desecrate it: this was how Coifi sullied the temple during the Anglo-Saxon conversions. And when weapons were allowed on site, they were put under a "peace bond" (a strip of ribbon or string around the hilt of a knife that tied it to it's scabbard). Combat there (or defecating or urinating) was often a capital offense. There were times and forms for duel - and none of them involved a frithstead.

My only qualm about this execution is that it's by lethal injection: electrocution or hanging would've been much more appropriate given the nature of the crime.

But hey! at least the author had an "expert" on heathen theology to turn to:

According to Art Jipson, who studies white racial extremism and directs the University of Dayton's criminal justice studies program, Lenz's belief that fatal force was warranted is not surprising.

"If he believes the fight was necessary, whether or not it was legal is the least of his concerns," Jipson said. "If he's a truly devout practicing Odinist or Asatruist, he's doing what he must do. And it would be a shame - it would be a black mark on his soul, his spirit... for him to be cowardly and not to fight."

Jipson is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Dayton, of all places. It's good he has a day job - if you followed the link it should be obvious that he'd never make it as a web designer.

He's not very good with names, either - I've never heard one of my co-religionists called an "Asatruist". That's about on a par with referring to Christians as "Christists". It may be "technically" correct, in the sense that it's a valid word form in English, but it's not the way we refer to ourselves nor is it the way anyone else on the planet refers to us.

And I have to wonder exactly what his qualifications for his "expert" status on Asatru "theology" are. I can't find his CV as it's a broken link on his page, but he says his research interests include "White Racial Extremism, Social Movements, Corporate and White Collar Crime, Sociological Theory, Labor Movements (especially the Teamsters), the Sociology of Popular Music, and, of course, the Internet Communities."

Applying this standard for "expertise" to myself, I could probably qualify as an "expert" on any theology you'd care to name ...

And please, Professor Jipson, could you point out any reference in our lore, ancient or modern, where my failure to engage in mortal combat in a frithstead will give me a "black mark" on my soul? While you're at it, why don't you show me the coherent Asatru conception of the soul - I know scholars who've been looking for it for years!

I've stood blot and sumble with twits who surely deserved a good ass-kicking - and I'm sure the feeling was reciprocated. Yet somehow we never managed to engage in combat, mortal or otherwise, within a frithstead. Or even outside of one. Wanna know why? Because we're not criminals!

Just because a criminal uses a religious excuse for his actions does not mean the religion incited those actions. Applying this logic consistently would condemn Christianity for inciting mothers to drown their children. And I know enough Christian theology to know that drowning your children isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible as a Good Thing...

Mercifully, though, in counterpoint to Jipson, the author digs up some genuine experts, including Steve McNallen, Jane Ruck of the National Prison Kindred Alliance, and a Wiccan adviser to the Federal prison system, all of whom assert the disconnect between Asatru and racism, and none of whom, perhaps not surprisingly, believe heathenry inevitably leads to murder.

The finish was the real kicker, though. We're out of the realm of idiocy and into Evil here - the Southern Poverty Law Center:

That kind of warrior mentality can exacerbate the tense environment behind bars, said Mark Potok, a leader at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which monitors hate groups.

"It's a theology that celebrates raw physical power and domination, and that is why I think it is so popular among prison inmates," Potok said. "The kind of inmate who might be attracted to this is a white man who is looking for justification for extreme violence, who is looking for an ideology which explains why he should be the boss."

Another expert on theology: this one's a lawyer. And the SPLC has been "after" heathenry for years, going back to the infamous Project Megiddo, where they provided the FBI with intelligence information gossip and lies that linked Asatru with millennial terrorist plots and Christian Identity militias! Note the implicit insinuation of racism in the quote above: only white men seek to justify violence, and Asatru provides the ideology. I guess black people don't need an ideology to justify violence...

Why do these folks hate heathens?

I don't think they do hate us, really - in fact, I'm convinced they actually know very little about us at all. We just add a "satanic" or "pagan" aura to their fundraising efforts. What better way to scare dollars out of liberal contributors than pagan Nazi hordes in prison, waiting to pounce on passing minorities?

Given their track record, the SPLC shouldn't have much credibility (or many friends) left. Watchdog groups are onto them (scroll down or search for 'The Atlanta Constitution'), the Left is onto them (the link is to the Free Republic forums, but the article posted is from Harpers) and the Right can't stomach them either.

So why do reporters constantly find Mr. Potok to pontificate? Beats me, but I'm so glad the AP found such a credible expert to wrap up their coverage. Kinda puts the patina of bullshit on the whole article, which would be the most accurate thing about it.

Rooted in Viking mythology, Asatru is drawing adherents - and, critics say, encouraging violence.

(link) [The Philadelphia Inquirer]

01:05 /Asatru | 6 comments | permanent link