One Person's Cult

The idea that someone could believe in the Norse Gods in the 21st Century is very strange indeed. While the tales of Thor and Odin were exciting reads throughout my childhood and the stuff of which Marvel comic books and movies are made, how could someone seriously believe that these Gods were –and in fact – remain real today?

Back in the late '90s I was the co-developer of a website that focused on historical topics. I did the basic editing and formatting while my friend David did the technical heavy lifting. I recall vividly the day that he told me that one of our readers was a very enthusiastic Odinist. The guy reached out via email and mailed a few copies of a magazine called The Odinist to David. Nothing came of this as Odinism was not at all in the scope of the work that we were doing. I never saw a copy of the magazine and could only surmise about its contents. But the thought of that communication has remained with me to this day.

Years later, after my own conversion to Asatru, I learned that The Odinist was more of a right-wing political rather than theological magazine. It was work of Else Christensen – an early proponent of Odinism dating back to the early '70s.

At this time, my children were young and I felt the urge to expose them to spirituality. While I had been a staunch atheist for more than a decade, I did not want to prevent my children from having the opportunity to explore faith and spirituality. After some thought and consideration, my wife and I became members of a local Lutheran Church and enrolled the kids in Sunday school. I had been confirmed as a teenager, but my knowledge was limited. Throughout my childhood church attendance was sporadic at best. A friend of mine, who was a devout Baptist, used to joke about A&P Christians. They only came to church on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday because they wanted to get something from the visit. We were likely more like C&E Christians, those who came on Christmas and Easter – but then again we spent many a Christmas at home opening gifts and watching a Yule log “burn” on a the television screen (a local channel broadcasted video of a burning Yule log on a loop accompanied by Christmas carols each Christmas eve). The “Yule log” was a tradition in my parent’s home.

The pastor in the church offered a class on “Cults.” As I was seeking all the information that I could gather on my newfound religion, I signed up. This topic seemed interesting and was not some sort of deep-dive into the Bible, something that I certainly wasn’t prepared for. The “cults” that were identified were not quite what I expected – no Manson family or Branch Davidians, but rather the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, and a few others that I don’t recall. I was immediately struck with the question – what made these religious groups cults while Christianity was not? Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman once quipped, “One person’s religion is another person’s cult.” I was sure that there must be a clear distinction – but what could it be?

After class one Sunday morning, I confronted the Pastor, “Did you know that there are people who still worship Odin?” He responded, “I haven’t heard of that. I imagine it must be a very small number of people.” I said, “I don’t know, but it may be many more than you think.”

The thought of it thrilled me. Even though some fifteen years would pass before I oathed my loyalty to the Gods as part of a tribe that worshipped the Aesir, the idea captivated me. At first it seemed simply odd, then crazy, then foolish, but ultimately it emerged as both true and right.

Over time it became clear that to belittle the spirituality and heritage of the Europeans was a form of chauvinism. Just as the European people excelled in science, architecture, art, philosophy, and music, among other things, they had a rich system of belief as well. The European conception of the spiritual was decidedly polytheistic – whether it was the belief system of the Greeks or Romans, or of the Germanic tribes -- all had a common thread of many Gods and Goddesses --that is until the coming of Christianity.

Edred Thorsson explains in his A Book of Troth,

"This interference in our national self-determination came in the form of a bizarre “cult from the East” called Christianity. It is today highly amusing to hear the servants of the White Christ wail in horror as "our culture" is invaded by "eastern cults" – as they are one of those cults themselves. That they know this on some level is probably the reason for their hysteria. To compound the irony, many of the "cults" imported from India may indeed be more closely related to our own indigenous religious heritage than Christianity. After all, the Vedas and Eddas share a common origin. The Torah and its heretical appendices (the so-called New Testament, the Koran, etc.) might as well come from another planet." (p.7)

Applying what I had learned about “cults” as the Pastor taught the class, I thought I was contributing and expected a well-thought out response when I pointed out that Christianity would have appeared as a cult to the Jewish people of the 1st Century. The Pastor agreed with my comment with no real rebuttal. Another student indicated that the key that made all the difference was that Christianity was true. Clearly I had much more to learn.

Asatru, which means “true to the Aesir” or “true to the Gods,” is a modern-day term applied to an ancient belief system. That system of belief is rich and complex and may indeed be hard-wired into the consciousness of the peoples of European heritage. Can there be any doubt that without the interference of that “cult” from the East that the people of Europe would still worship the Gods and Goddesses of our ancestors? How would our world be different had the cult of Christianity been held at bay?

My mind gushes with the thought and the possibilities.

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