Swedish Academic Mattias Gardell Discusses the Rise of Neo-Paganism in America

IR: The radical right seems in many ways to have further radicalized over recent years, to have become Nazified. Has Odinism played a role in this?

GARDELL: Odinism has been part of this process of radicalization from the outset. It goes back, most importantly, to The Order [a terrorist group of the 1980s], which was founded by Robert Matthews, who was an early Odinist. The revolutionary Aryan scene today is largely modeled on The Order.

Pagans have had another role in the radicalization of the movement: pointing out that Christianity, in their view, is the single most important cause of the demise of Aryan man.

By breaking with Christianity — which they see as unnatural, a religion that hails defeat and weakness and is symbolized by a crucified loser — racist pagans burned more bridges to American society than almost any on the radical right who came before.

And Odinism has also made another contribution to radicalization. In the past, militias and the "Patriots" in general claimed that the [original] American Revolution had been betrayed, that you had to have a second American revolution to return the country to what it once was.

But David Lane [an imprisoned Order member who runs an Odinist propaganda ministry from his cell] broke with these ideas radically.

Lane says that from the very beginning, America was part of the Zionist conspiracy. To him, that is why the American military has been engaged in all these wars ever since the country's foundation. All these wars, in Lane's view, were fought to force the nations of the world to submit to the Zionist dictatorship.

IR: So the American democratic experiment was tainted from the start?

GARDELL: It goes all the way back. Lane says you cannot be both white and American. How could you possibly be what destroys you?

Racists today, in contrast to the '50s and '60s, are not waving the American flag. They are burning it. And this has helped globalize their message, which has met and combined with the anti-American sentiment traditionally found among European fascists and national socialists who never forgave America for fighting on the wrong side during World War II. That has been an important bridge.

IR: Let's change subjects. Could you give a brief explanation of Odinism and Asatrú and describe some of how they differ from Christianity?

GARDELL: Odinism is a [20th century] racist reconstruction of pre-Christian, Norse pagan traditions that were generally called Asatrú. These were the religious traditions of Europe including Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland about 1,000 years ago before Christianity reached northern Europe.

Norse traditions do not speak of one god but rather several gods and goddesses. Odinism does not see the gods as being of a different nature than man, but as basically being of the same nature. God, or the divine, permeates nature and animates all living creatures, including trees and animals, rivers and mountains. The whole earth is seen as divine. There is no special distinction given to man.

Odinism is not an anthropocentric religion at all. It sees man as being part of nature and it sees the gods and goddesses as being part of nature. Basically, it's a combination of a pantheistic notion that holds nature sacred with a polytheistic view of a plurality of gods and goddesses. This allows for direct communications between gods and man.

Most people I talked to regard the myths as containing some sacred form of truth, but no one takes them literally. I have yet to meet one Odinist or Asatrúer who believes Thor is actually a red-bearded, muscular, anthropomorphic entity who wields his hammer to crush real giants. Each god has limits.

So Odinism differs from Christianity because there is no omnipotent and omnipresent god. The gods have strengths and weaknesses, they have desires, then enjoy sexuality, they have an appetite for life and they may even die

The conditions of the gods are familiar to men. This central point of kinship between man and the divine is key. So when gods and man engage, they have an interdependent relationship more modeled on the family than on one of master and servant.

An Asatrúer would never surrender his will to God. An Asatrúer or an Odinist, racist or not, would never pray to a god.

The energies or condensed forces of Odin, Thor, Freya, and the rest are symbolic representations of human potentials. They are aspects of man's personality that need to be addressed and balanced.

So the main objective for most Asatrúers is to work on these divine inner energies in the quest for self-metamorphosis, the act of becoming a god.

This is different from the Christian mystic who seeks to transcend humanity and become one with God. In a racialized context, Odinism or Asatrú translates into the notion that the European people are a divine race.

IR: Please describe differences between racist and nonracist neo-Pagans.

GARDELL: There are really three positions: the militant racists, the nonracists and, in between, a third, "ethnic" position.

The militant racist position claims Asatrú is an expression of the Aryan racial soul, the original Aryan religion going back all the way to the golden age.

This thinking connects with the national socialist occultism of German Nazis like Heinrich Himmler and a number of philosophers. They are very much Jungian in their way of perceiving the racial soul, a racial collective unconscious.

For them, Asatrú, or Odinism, is for every pure Aryan. And Aryan today is a wider concept than it was in the 30s, including all those people who we now normally call white — Russian, Greeks, Iberians, maybe even Iranians.

The nonracists see Asatrú as available to anyone. There is no particular connection to any tribe or racial group.

Then you have the ethnic position that says Asatrú is an ethnic religion, a tribal religion of the north. These people see the gods as present in the form of archetypes engraved in the ethnicity of all northern Europeans.

They say this is not racism but tribalism. They are open, for instance, to cooperation with [American] Indian nationalists. They are against national socialists and fascism.

But they are also against the antiracist position. Unlike the racists, they do not see Odinism as a stepping stone to implementing a global Aryan revolution. They never talk about ZOG [the so-called Zionist Occupation Government], Jews or blacks but they are very much ethnocentric.

They are interested in European traditions, artifacts, history and culture. They might study Icelandic and Norse languages.