Why is Odin the New God of Choice for White Supremacists?
Those who once worshipped the ‘great gods of the north’ would be ashamed if they knew their faith was used to support such hatred and violence as witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August 2017. There is no evidence of discrimination or racial violence in the days before the north found the Cross, so why are white supremacists now turning to ancient Nordic gods to support their ideology?
The events that transpired in Charlottesville, which left 3 dead and 36 injured, was a brutal, unwarranted assault on people who were guilty of nothing more than not being what the white supremacists wanted them to be: white.
Soldiers of Odin
Soldiers of Odin, Sons of Odin, or Odinists are what this radical conglomeration of white supremacists call themselves. Odinism, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a rising religious sect following the ancient gods Odin, a sky god and a prophetic god, and Thor, a god known for his value in warfare. Both Odin and Thor have been contestants for the title of "father of the gods" or "chief of the gods"; more evidence appears to claim Odin in this role, which is likely why the name was chosen. Those who follow this sect value it for the same reason Adolf Hitler valued the Aryan ancestry of the Germans: Odinism values European culture, and presumes that to be white is to be right.
Yet even Odinism is a warped, American version of not only Hitler's racial beliefs but of both the ancient polytheistic faith and the 20 th century neopagan religion that valued Odin and Thor, the Asatru Fellowship (Ásatrúarfélagið). Like so many religious sects, Odinism found its origins in a peaceful religion that was gradually perverted.
- Pagans in a Modern World: What is Neopaganism?
- Return of the Ancient Gods: The Resurgence of Paganism
- The true meaning of Paganism
The Norse god Odin enthroned, flanked by his two wolfs, Geri and Freki, and his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, and holding his spear Gungnir. (public domain)
The Resurgence of Paganism
Following the rise of the holistic faith called Wicca in the 1900s, various strands of contemporary paganism arose. Celtic Wicca, Faery Wicca and Gardenia Wicca are among the strands, in the same way that Christianity branches off into Episcopal, Baptist, and so on. Among these branches of Wicca arose the Asatru Fellowship. In 1972, a man called Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson chose the path of the pre-Christian north as his faith. The Asatru Fellowship is very similar to Odinism—or rather, Odinism drew heavily from the Asatru Fellowship, predominately in the value of Odin and Thor. After this, the practices have little in common. The Asatru Fellowship follow the ancient gods of the north through peaceful outdoor gatherings; Odinism, on the other hand, has become a haven for white supremacists and values the heritage of the white man in the name of the white gods, rather than the eastern religious leader called Jesus of Nazareth.
There has been a resurgence of paganism in modern times. Beltane Fire Festival Celebrations. CC BY NC-SA 2.0
The Adulteration of Norse Religion
The Old Norse religion is one of the few religions that can be so easily "reinterpreted," likely one of the reasons the Asatru Fellowship was able to thrive in the modern world. One of the difficulties of understanding the faith in its totality is that the pre-Christian Norsemen did not write down their own faith; the stories and manuscripts that survive were dictated centuries later by Christians who had heard the old tales. Yet in writing down the pagan beliefs, the scribes needed to understand it first; the only way to do that was to look at the religion through the lens of Christianity. Therefore, much of what is known from literature is itself a perversion of the late medieval authors.
Those who have taken the time to understand the medieval literature and ancient values are aware of what was truly important to the followers of Odin: wisdom, memory and honorable victory. Can white supremacists really claim that what happened in Charlottesville in 2017, or in Germany in the 1940s, was in any way honorable?
Perhaps it is better to distinguish Odinists from the Asatru Fellowship from the ancient pagans. Perhaps such a separation will help preserve the dignity and strength of the pre-Christian Norseman. But how can one distinguish the three faiths when Odinism so rigidly borrows and then mutilates the ancient symbolism, the same way Hitler did with the swastika, once a symbol of sun, light and strength?
White supremacists standing by the statue of Robert E. Lee, before the crash in Charlottesville. Credit: Go Nakamura
The majority of those who have adopted Odinism as the banner of white supremacy have not examined the medieval literature, the ancient runestones or the archaeological evidence of the north. Odinists appear to be concerned with only one "fact": that the northern gods were white.
An article discussing white supremacy from "Reveal News" cites a man who claimed that only white people are allowed into Valhalla, the hall where the bravest of fallen warriors eat, train and wait for the final battle called Ragnarök. Yet, there is not a lick of evidence that Odin only favored the white man in the pre-Christian north. The only "proof" is that those of the north were white, therefore statistically Odin's hall would have been made up of white men. But this is an assumption, rather than a "fact."
A Valkyrie bearing a Hero to Valhalla. White supremacists and Odinists say that only white people can enter Valhalla. (public domain)
It should be made clear that not all white supremacists are Odinists, and that those who worship Odin are not necessarily Odinists or white supremacists. What is clear, however, is that the followers of the ancient religion, which some white supremacists are turning to, could not have been more colorblind if they tried; they could not have been more tolerant of other religions, for that matter. Religious intolerance was a minute concern before the days of Christianity and no particular race was allocated as lesser than another. Prejudices have always existed, but the extent to which those prejudices have evolved is not aligned with the umbrella faiths followed.
Top image: Soldiers of Odin in Stockholm 2016. (CC by SA 4.0)
By Riley Winters
Aldhouse Green, Miranda. 1998. "Human Sacrifice in Iron Age Europe." British Archaeology. Accessed August 14, 2017. http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba38/ba38feat.html
Carless, Will. 2017. "An ancient Nordic religion is inspiring white supremacist terror." Reveal News. Accessed August 14, 2017. https://www.revealnews.org/article/an-ancient-nordic-religion-is-inspiring-white-supremacist-jihad/
Coningham, Robin; Young, Ruth. 2015. The Archaeology of South Asia: From the Indus to Asoka, c.6500 BCE–200 CE. Cambridge University Press.
Davidson, H.R. Elllis. 1993. The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe. Routledge: London.
Davidson, H.R. Elllis. 1988. Myths and Symbols of Pagan Europe: early Scandinavia and Celtic religions. Syracuse University Press: New York.
DuBois, Thomas A. 1999. Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia.
Marshall, John. Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization: Being an Official Account of Archaeological Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro Carried Out by the Government of India Between the Years 1922 and 1927. Asian Educational Services, 1931.
Paulas, Rick. 2015. "How a Thor-Worshipping Religion Turned Racist." Vice. Accessed August 14, 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/qbxpp5/how-a-thor-worshipping-religion-turned-racist-456
Robert, P. & Scott, N. 1995. A History of Pagan Europe. Barnes & Noble Books: New York.
Smiley, Jane. 2001. Sagas of the Icelanders. Penguin Publishing Group: NY.