Odinism is an ancient religion that predates Christianity by many thousands of years. In its original incarnation it was a very peaceful religion, following rigid strictures of conduct and behaviour despite its associations with the warlike Viking races. However, in the 20th Century it seemed to attract a growing number of followers who were less interested in the religious concepts and more interested in propagating an idea of one ‘master race.’ Today, Odinism is synonymous with racial intolerance and hatred – an association that its true followers are keen to distance themselves from. Is it, however, possible, or has that association become too entrenched?
The Origins and Values of Odinism
Odinism originated from Scandinavia. However, although it is often called the religion of the ancient Vikings, archaeological findings have revealed evidence of Odinistic ritual, dating back as far as 42,000 years. In addition, Odinism has an organised history of about 8,000 years, while the Vikings only lasted about 500. While its origins are definitely Nordic and rooted in Scandinavian history and pre-history, the Vikings’ apparent ownership of the faith is a misleading assumption; they were a small, but notorious part of the religion’s development.
In its basic precepts, Odinism can be seen as an Earth religion. It believes that the planet we live on is the incarnation of the goddess, Frigga. Odin is represented as the Sky and the union between these two has produced mankind; we are the children of the gods. In the Odinist universe, there are nine worlds, bearing different races, such as giants and elves. The stories surrounding the different races, gods and their respective kingdoms detail a constant battle between the forces of good and evil. Man’s role in the universal picture is to decide which force he is allied with and behave accordingly.
There are nine scared strictures in the Odinist faith and followers adhere to these with rigorous dedication. The strictures are: Honesty – in all things, an Odinist must be true to himself and those around him.
Honour – Odinists must have the courage to act upon their convictions and must always hour their oaths.
Loyalty – Odinists must be loyal to their friends and family, as well as being loyal to their religion, its gods and goddesses.
Strength – this stricture demands that followers must practice self-mastery and discipline to live by their convictions. Hospitality – to share gifts with others.
Industriousness – in addition to working hard and intelligently, Odinists are encouraged to dedicate themselves to self-growth and understanding.
Self-reliance – just like the warriors of old, Odinists believe it is better to rely on yourself than to be constantly supported by others.
Perseverance – Odinists must draw on their reserves of strength and self-belief to attain whatever they set out to do.
Courage – followers of the religion must have the bravery to stand up for what they believe in and know to be right.
Adopted by White Supremacists
Odinism has been recognised as an official religion since 1972. However, despite its Euro-centric myths and legends, its architects have always been careful not to make it an exclusively white faith. In spite of this, in the United States an estimated 15% of Odinists follow an offshoot of the religion, one that espouses the magical elements of European polytheism. These followers tend to be white supremacists that reject the Christian aspects of other religions, such as all men being created equal.
Carl Raschke, Professor of religion at Denver University, believes that the attraction lies in mythologising the values of the ancient, European whites, portraying them as wandering barbarians who battled the elements whilst deeply involved in a mystical relationship with nature. Raschke describes this splinter group as a religion that appeals “to a generation raised on rock music.” It praises the virtue of ‘the tribe’ and credits the whites with building civilisation and creating a roster of ethics and individual responsibility. In misinterpreting Odinism, the supremacists have opted tor the idea that the white race is superior to all others and is the natural, ruling class.
The Association with Nazis
Odinism ran into further trouble with its ‘adoption’ by many members of the Third Reich. Its appraisal of the white Europeans appealed to the Nazis at a time when they were convincing their public that the German race was ready to assume its place as the dominant force in the world. Ancient Odinist rites were used as part of the initiation ceremony into the elite Schutzstaffel – better known as the dreaded SS. Some time later, this perverted view of Odinism also influenced George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi party.
Stephen McNallen founded the Asatru Free Assembly, trying distance Odinism from its Nazi associations. However, the difficulties in doing so convinced McNallen to shut the group down, in 1987. However, in the mid-1990s he decided to create another group, the Asatru Folk Assembly – but for entirely different reasons. His worry was that Odinists were passing on the message that the true religion was for anyone, regardless of their colour or point of origin. McNallen, despite being uncomfortable with the Nazi label, formed the new group to highlight his belief that Asatru was biologically linked to white Europeans and therefore was open only to white people – once again cementing the misnomer that Odinism is fundamentally racist.
Furthermore, Ronald Schuett, one of the leaders of the Folk Assembly and former Colorado state-organiser of the SS Action Group, reinforced the racist ideals of these splinter-groups, by posing in a Nazi uniform and openly declaring it. “I’m racist and proud of it,” he declared in 1992.
Unfortunately for Odinists, the associations with racism and the horrors of the Nazi party run deep. The imagery adopted by white supremacists relies heavily on runic and gothic inscriptions and pictures – so much so that they are seen primarily as examples of racist propaganda and the actual myths from which they came are becoming lost. There are over 40 sites dedicated to Odinism on the Internet and the majority of them are non-racist. However, just as peace-loving Muslims fail to make the news, the media tend only to pick up on the views and actions of a twisted minority, further fuelling the idea that it is a religion based in hate.