Awhile ago, some friends from a fellow Asatru kindred and I spent a few days at a Pagan gathering in Michigan. We talked with a number of quite interesting people, we saw some fine samples of Pagan hand craft, we admired many excellently endowed, scantily clad Pagan ladies, we went through several gallons of mead, we made obnoxious remarks to one another about some of the more bizarre people and events, we performed a Sumble for the curious and the thirsty--in short, we behaved exactly like who we are, and we had a ripping good time. When we left, we carried with us two im- portant perceptions. The first is that we are indeed quite different, in our practices and in the way we see the world, from other Pagans. The second is that, with a minimal effort on both sides, our differences prevented neither us nor anyone else there from getting along, enjoying one another's company, and having fun.
Any religion that seriously seeks a future for itself must create a "community of the faithful." That is one of the things that separates religion from art, psychotherapy or a single-minded devotion to, say, auto mechanics. It is also the way in which a religion becomes a metaphor for the coherence in the midst of chaotic diversity that men and women have sought to realize in their lives for practically as long as there have been men and women. To succeed, a religion must be able to create within its confines a more manageable, but no less whole and inclusive, replica of the society or people from which it grows. It is not surprising that North American Asatru, as a very young religion, is not yet accomplishing the task of creating such a community. What is truly disturbing, however, is that it doesn't seem even to be trying.
To date, Asatruarfolk in this country have organized themselves in accordance with one or another of two basic patterns: the kindred and the hierarchical "church." Neither of these, by itself, is well-suited to the creation of a true community. The kindred is modeled after the extended family or, if it succeeds, the tribe. Its very existence depends on drawing a "magic circle," separating itself from the "outside"; there are natural limits to how much diversity it may include without losing its essential character. The hierarchical organization arrives at the same result through different means; it can become infinitely large and in- clusive, but the leaders at the top determine what parts of the whole are "significant," and they generally do this by promoting within the organization those who have essentially the same world-view as themselves. Those excluded from the inner circle, if they have any sense and self-esteem, eventually lose interest and leave. Because we are a people of free men and women, not followers, we cannot remain satisfied with creating a community in the shadow of a hierarchy--the Reformation is an excellent historical example of this principle at work.
That is not to say that kindreds and hierarchies are not useful, and even necessary; they are both. Kindreds create a sense of belonging, and hier- archies get things done. Neither our kindreds nor our hierarchies are stable, however, without reference to a community; by themselves, they are too unbalanced. To give perhaps the most obvious example, Asatru has been unsuccessful in attracting significant numbers of women, apart from the wives and girlfriends of Asatruarmenn. This is perfectly natural: why shouldn't most women who are interested in Pagan spirituality be drawn to those traditions primarily emphasizing the Goddess? However, if Asatru, consisting mostly of men, cuts itself off from the rest of Paganism, then it will remain inherently instable. And this is only one of many forms of imbalance that affect Asatru in America.
The point of all this is quite simple: Asatru, as presently constituted, cannot create a true community, but Paganism can. Asatru needs a com- munity, and one is already out there, in the process of formation, open to our participation. All we need do to become a part of it is to acknowledge that we are simply one part of a greater whole, and to let the other parts follow their different paths without worrying ourselves about what, in any event, is none of our business. Given that Asatru has always seemed to make it a point of honor that it is not a universal religion, why don't we carry our premise to its logical conclusion, and recognize that an in- dividual branch cannot realize its destiny in isolation from the tree of which it is a part? Because our faith is not universal, we will always need things, both obvious and subtle, from others, and to pretend otherwise is psychologically unhealthy. In joining with other Pagans, we will not lose our character as a proud and independent religion. Rather, we will fully realize our character, and achieve wholeness and stability, only by becoming responsible and productive, if somewhat outrageous, members of the greater Pagan community. And I expect we will have a better time, as well.
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