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An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind

All art and words by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy. Please click this image to open a new window and support us at Patreon.

In war, it is unwise to use your sword arm to pat yourself on the back.  Yet I look around at the current “war on discrimination” that is raging within the better half of the Heathen community, and over the past two days, I have seen a lot of people doing exactly that. In fact, I have even seen some people encouraging such behavior through memes suggesting that we all take credit for the Facebook ban of the AFA, even if we were not actively involved in making that happen.  On the flip side, even as this “victory” was taking place, I have sat back and watched as many of those same Heathens who espouse complete anti-discrimination policies (and I am firmly on the side of no discrimination of anyone ever) attack Christians and Christianity as a whole, and attack people for the virtues they are oathsworn to protect (even when they began their post with a caveat patently stating they didn’t expect everyone to uphold those same values).   We cannot pretend, as a group of people, to make war on discrimination while we vehemently maintain our own ways of discriminating against people.  When we do that, the only thing we’re patting ourselves on the back for at the end of the day is hypocrisy.

For those on the outside of the Heathen community, here’s a brief snapshot of what has been going on for the past year:

In September of 2016, Huginn’s Heathen Hof published Declaration 127, which is based on stanza 127 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”, from the Codex Regius, 13th century; believed by Heathens to be the sayings of Odin All-Father):

“When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frith.”–Translation on the HHH website

“When you see evil being done, call it out as evil, and show the evil-doer no peace.”–My Translation

This Declaration is accompanied by a sort of “petition”, which people and organizations may sign to demonstrate their complete denunciation of, and disassociation from, the AFA (the Asatru Folk Assembly).  Those who support Declaration 127 are essentially binding themselves to an oath that:

“While [we] fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right. We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.”

Further, Declaration 127 states:

“The AFA’s views do not represent our communities.  We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do.  We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frith, to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.  The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit.  They are free to stand alone.”

I wholeheartedly supported Declaration 127. 

Why? What had the AFA done that was so wrong as to spark all of this?

The AFA has its roots in the Viking Brotherhood, which was founded by Stephen McNallen in 1972.  This, in turn, became the Asatru Free Assembly in 1974, which gave birth to two other major Heathen organizations: the Asatru Alliance and The Troth.  In 1986, the Asatru Free Assembly was disbanded because McNallen was apparently “too busy” to keep it going. Then, in 1994, he formed the Asatru Folk Assembly (the AFA of today), founded upon a Declaration of Purpose which includes, among other things:

2. The preservation of the People of the North (typified by the Scandinavian/Germanic and Celtic peoples), and the furtherance of their continued evolution;

10. Working to secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. (emphasis mine)

A brief visit to their website (yes, I went there!) sheds further light on the AFA worldview.  Their statement of ethics includes the following (and I really couldn’t begin to make this stuff up):

“Healthy families are the cornerstone of folk society and its strength and prosperity is derived from them.  We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships.  We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own.  We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged.” (Again, emphasis mine.)

So, clearly, the AFA is not only racist, but also anti-LGBTQ.  

Which is why it became blatantly obvious to me that I should support Declaration 127.  I mean, clearly, there is zero room in my heart for frith for anyone or any organization who is discriminatory towards people of color, other cultures, other faiths, or members of the LGBTQ community.  And the AFA not only discriminates against these groups that they consider “outsiders” (utangard), but they also muddy the waters for the rest of us who patently do not.  I have experienced this “muddying of the waters” firsthand: to many people outside of the Heathen community, the AFA represents what we all believe, even when they patently do not.  Add to this a large dearth in Heathen publications that are not either advocated by, published by, or have publishing rights owned by the AFA, and you have a recipe for situations in which simply carrying a book in a shop which is remotely associated with the AFA becomes grounds for accusations of Neo-Nazism. (It happens. It has happened. I witnessed it with my own two eyes.)  Such also becomes grounds for those who support Declaration 127 to not give those shops their business, even when said shopowners are in no way, shape, or form remotely affiliated with the AFA.

It’s a slippery slope that has been built, to say the least.

That slope becomes even more slippery when one ventures into the dogmatically Reconstructionist world of many of my fellow supporters of Declaration 127.  I personally reached a point where I no longer shared my writings or my art because “daily crucifixion” is not my idea of a “good time”. I have sat back and watched, stunned, as other people were attacked (to the point of fleeing a group) for having values (to which they were oathsworn) which mirrored the Nine Noble Virtues, purely because those virtues were supposedly first espoused by McNallen and his compatriots, and supposedly not directly derived from historical sources (even though every single one of the virtues in question appear directly in the Havamal).  I have read through countless posts railing against the dreaded “Christian-grafting”, and Christianity and Christians on the whole, even while also espousing a “show it to me in the lore, or it isn’t valid” attitude: when our lore is all a product of Christian authors, written in the post-Christian period.  In short, I have observed those very same people who were so opposed to discrimination constantly discriminate: against those who are “less Reconstructionist” than they are; against Judeo-Christianity on the whole (which, when you think about it, can border on Anti-Semitism, in and of itself), and against anyone who is so “misinformed” as to accidentally promote something which has ever been “tainted” by the AFA whatsoever (in a world where, until about a decade ago, the AFA was pretty much “the only show in town”, and largely remains such when it comes to quality published source material apart from the Eddas and Sagas themselves).  

Many among the supporters of Declaration 127 see this recent Facebook ban of the AFA as a victory, and on many levels, they are not wrong to feel that way.  However, I keep coming back to those last words of Declaration 127; those last words that were still floating in my head as I signed it myself almost a year ago:

“While the undersigned organizations listed here fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right…The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit. They are free to stand alone.”

Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook is neither fully recognizing their right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, nor allowing them to be free to stand for whatever principles they see fit.  Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook, while supposedly upholding the above principles, is bullying at its basest.  One cannot stop bullying simply by being the better bully!  Yes, there are places within the corpus of the Havamal that suggest “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and bust their heads open while you’re at it”: a thrice-fold sort of vengeance, to make sure things really get sorted and your enemies fully know “who’s boss”.  There are also places within the corpus of the Havamal that say “never trust a woman” and “beguile women with soft words”. We tend to downplay those latter verses, with the argument that we’re living in the twenty-first century, and such sexism has no place here.  Well, there is no place in the world in which we are presently living for thrice-fold vengeance, either. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless, and that is all such attitudes accomplish.

Maybe we have won a battle, with Facebook actively recognizing that the AFA fosters hateful attitudes and hateful speech, but we have not won the war.  So long as we are shackled to our own hypocrisy while at the same time patting ourselves on the back with our sword arms, when the next battle comes, we will have no appendages left available with which to fight!  A zero tolerance policy for discrimination needs be exactly that: a zero tolerance policy.  So long as it is still socially acceptable to point an accusatory finger at someone based on a difference in faith (anti-Christian, anti-Judeo-Christian), or to argue the concept of ergi as anti-LGBTQ as a point of historical fact within our faith-base that still holds true, we patently are not maintaining such a zero tolerance policy.  Instead, we are merely ignoring our own transgressions and shortcomings by loudly focusing attention on the transgressions and shortcomings of others. Until we stop doing that, we will never win this war; we will only serve to perpetuate it.

Declaration 127 is a great ideal, but like most “high ideals”, once you throw actual humans into the mix, things have a way of going terribly, terribly wrong.  I commend its author for what he was trying to do, when he created it, and put it out there to gain the support which it has gained.  I admire him for having the cajones to do something like that, because it took some serious cajones.  Anytime one voice rises up against the Darkness and tries to get others to join them in that fight, it takes courage.  I hope that you will all keep that in mind after having read this post….

 

 

 

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The Death of Trans-Cultural Diffusion

Original digital painting of Bruce Lee by Connla Freyjason, featured within an artist journaling page, also by Connla, 2017.

Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. ~Bruce Lee

I’m writing this today because something recently occurred in a Facebook Group to which we belong that deeply disturbed not only me, but also Michelle, and even my Beloved, Suzanne.  I don’t often like to bring things like this into the blog, but I think this is a topic which is reaching such epidemic proportions that it desperately needs to be addressed.  As the CEO of a business which promotes multiculturalism, this needs to be addressed before someone comes at us, the way they’ve come at the CEO who runs said Facebook Group.

Face it: we’re living in a society full of people who are absolutely desperate to be offended by something.  Which is odd, considering that there are plenty of things to be offended by in our modern world, without having to actively look for something petty to be offended by!  Most of these folks who are so eager to be offended run about chanting big words like cultural appropriationcultural misappropriation, and politically correct, while at the same time casting themselves as supposed champions of multiculturalism. Yet, oddly, none of them seem to know what any of these words/phrases actually mean! So, before I start the storytelling portion of this blog post, let’s get those definitions out of the way:

Cultural Appropriation: (sometimes abbreviated CA)  The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.  Can include using other cultures’ traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and cultural songs without permission.  

Cultural Misappropriation: The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture in violation of the intellectual property rights of the original culture.  Differs from acculturationassimilation, or cultural exchange in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context–sometimes against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

Politically Correct: (sometimes abbreviated PC) Language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society; conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of gender or race) should be eliminated.

Multiculturalism:  The existence of multiple culture traditions within a single community, usually considered in terms of the culture associated with an aboriginal or indigenous ethnic group and foreign ethnic groups.  Multicultural ideologies and policies vary widely, ranging from advocacy of equal respect to the various cultures in a society, to policies of promoting the maintenance of cultural diversity, to policies in which people of various ethnic and religious groups are addressed by the authorities as defined by the group to which they belong.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that there are other terms in bold within those definitions? Let’s define those while we’re at it, plus one: Trans-cultural Diffusion:

Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property Rights: (sometimes abbreviated as IP)  Intellectual property refers to creations of the intellect for which a monopoly is assigned to designated owners by law.  Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the protections granted to the creators of IP, and include trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets. Artistic works, including music and literature, as well as discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs can be protected as intellectual property.  The purpose of IPR is to “promote progress”:  by exchanging limited exclusive rights for disclosure of inventions and creative works, society and the patent/copyright owner mutually benefit, and an incentive is created for inventors and authors/artists to create and disclose their work.

Acculturation:  The process of cultural change and psychological change that results following the meeting of two different cultures. Acculturation is a direct change of one’s culture through dominance over another’s culture through either military or political conquest (in other words, via colonialism).

Assimilation:  The process by which a person or a group’s language and/or culture come to resemble those of another group.  The term is used to refer to both individuals and groups, and in the latter case can refer to either immigrant diasporas or native residents that come to be culturally dominated by another society (again, colonialism).

Cultural Exchange:  An exchange of students, artists, athletes, etc. between two distinct cultures to promote mutual understanding.

Colonialism and “colonial manner”:  The establishment of a community in one territory by a political power from a different territory, and the subsequent maintenance, expansion, and exploitation of that colony.  Also used as a term to describe an unequal relationship between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and displaced indigenous or aboriginal people. (Note: given the definitions of acculturation and assimilation above, hopefully the problem with the sentence “Cultural misappropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation….in that the appropriation or misappropriation refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner” becomes self-evident…..)

Cultural Diversity:  The existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.  The quality of diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture, the global culture, or a homogenization of cultures, akin to cultural decay.  Can also refer to having different cultures respect each other’s differences.

Trans-Cultural Diffusion:  The spread of cultural items–such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, languages, etc.–between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one culture to another, usually resulting in innovation and the betterment of all societies/cultures involved.

 

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way so that we’re all on the same page, the story (without too many details) of what sparked all of this:

We belong(ed) to a group based off of a series of books that promote organizing your life and your business in a spiritual way, with an emphasis on muticulturalism (we thought) and “sisterhood” (or, in my case, at the very least community).  Yesterday, someone came into the group criticizing the author for her use of cultural appropriation on several pages of these books, specifically when urging readers to explore the creation of mandalas (Hindu/Buddhist), seeking spirit animals (which they felt was a specifically Native American practice), participating in shamanic drumming (which they also felt was a specifically Native American practice), and exploring yoga (East Indian) as a practice.  Others then joined in the discussion, adding criticism of the author’s use of images of women of color in her artwork (said author is Caucasian) and dreamcatchers (Native American; specifically Ojibwe, later adopted by other Native Peoples, including the Lakota).  My immediate response was to roll my eyes and mutter privately under my breath that if this same author had only included images of other Caucasians throughout her work and had only suggested “suitably White activities,” they would all be decrying her as a racist instead.  She literally could not win, either way.

The other big issue with these people’s allegations is that they attributed at least two of the things on the list to cultures which patently haven’t “cornered the market” on the things in question: neither spirit animals nor shamanic drumming are exclusively Native American.  In fact, the word shamanic isn’t even of Native American origin–the word shaman is actually from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia (i.e., Siberia)!  Shamanic drumming actually co-originates in the Native American culture, Aboriginal Australian culture, Mongolian culture, and Saami culture (the indigenous people of Scandinavia), as well as many other tribal cultures with systems of religion which focus on trancework and religious ecstasy.  The use of spirit animals likewise covers all of these shamanic cultures, as well as many others wherein animism is practiced. The other two major things at issue–the creation of mandalas and the practice of yoga–are actually associated with world religions: specifically, Hinduism and Buddhism.  Last time I checked, religions are open to people of all cultural persuasions and racial backgrounds, and when that isn’t the case, things like the need for Declaration 127  in Heathenry happen.

Apparently all of these people are operating on the same misguided notion as most of their compatriots who scream “that’s not politically correct, that’s cultural mis/appropriation!” every chance that they get: that a culture can or even should hold intellectual property rights on those things which are uniquely representative of that specific culture.  Rather than make a summary proclamation on whether or not I actually feel that that should or should not “be a thing”, let’s take a look at what our world would be like if it actually were…..

The year is 1271.  A seventeen year old Venetian sets off for Asia on a series of adventures with his uncle.  They spend 24 years, traveling along the Silk Road to Mongolia.  While on those travels, he refuses to write anything down, because he fears being accused of cultural misappropriation.  He returns home, and centuries later, people all across Europe continue to pay for their goods either via the barter system or with bags of gold. Paper money is never invented in Europe.  Eyeglasses are also never invented in the West.  People continue to send mail via carrier pigeon, because the postal system, which already existed in Mongolia, is never introduced in the West.  The Industrial Revolution happens in Asia, rather than in the West, because coal is never introduced as a primary fuel source in the West.  North America and South America exist only as small colonies of Scandinavia and the Irish because none of the other explorers ever go there, because they do not have the inspiration of Marco Polo to spur them forward.

The year is 1954.  “Race music” emerges, consisting of influences from African oral storytelling, heavy rhythmic influences, and call and response song styles.  Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, and Gospel music never develop, because America’s “black population” fears cultural misappropriation: they do not want to participate in the same level of colonialism as their Caucasian oppressors.  Rock and roll and Rockabilly also never happen. Country Music as we know it today never happens.  Elvis Presley never happens. Western culture remains segregated by race. 

The year is 1959.  A Chinese-German immigrant from Hong Kong who is a senior at Edison Technical School in Seattle begins teaching non-Asians the martial arts.  He does so for five years, dropping out of college in 1964 and moving to Oakland, California, where he continues to practice his reverse-colonialism and subversive reverse cultural appropriation of teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians.  He draws the line, however, at adopting from other Asian forms or even from the fighting styles of other cultures, making sure to keep his style–the style he is teaching to non-Asians, remember–distinctly Chinese Gung Fu in the Wing Chun style.  When invited to attend a Karate Championship hosted in Long Beach in that year, he refuses the invitation.  When approached by one of the foremost authorities on the Korean fighting style of Taekwondo, he refuses to take the call.  Finally, in outrage, the Chinese community issues a challenge: stop teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians. He complies.  Bruce Lee never happens. The entire genre of martial arts action films never happens. Some of the greatest philosophy ever written never happens.

This is the sort of world we are destined to live in if we cling to the battle-cry of being “politically correct” and not practicing “cultural misappropriation”.  What myself and others, including that poor author whose group we just left, are trying to promote is multiculturalism via trans-cultural diffusion, a phenomenon which has existed since humans first began having contact with other humans.  Trans-cultural diffusion gave us many of the things which we consider necessities in life: paper money, technology (via the Industrial Revolution), integration, and the global community that we live in today.  It also gave us many things which it would be very hard for us to imagine living without: martial arts films, rock and roll, pasta, and even Chinese takeaway.  When we scream for intellectual property rights to be applied to cultural heritage, we are likewise begging to rob our children and future generations of innovation! So take a few minutes to roll that around in your brain.  Are you so selfish, whatever your cultural heritage might be, that you don’t want future generations to benefit from having known that culture? Shall we stop growing, as a global culture, simply because these few people fear being offended or offending someone else?