THE EVOLUTION OF THEODISH BELIEF

Part 5: The World of Asatru

by Garman Lord
 

For us Theodish folk, being drawn ever deeper into the world of Asatru was a
new experience, for all that we had dwelt co-religiously cheek by jowl with
Asatru all the way back to the days of the AFA and Steve McNallen. One of the
first things we learned was one of the last things we ever expected,
especially in an organization like the Troth, which liked to bill itself as
higher-minded and more progressive than the rest. Right away, we learned that
if you are a new kid moving onto this block, and especially if you look or
talk a little different from the rest, you better know how to fight.
"Non-discriminatory" Heathenry? Don't you believe it. We found bigotry, and
plenty of it, and most of it in the Troth. Interestingly, however, Asatru
feuding rarely involved physical combat of the kinds we were accustomed to in
the Theodish Rice, and relatively little of the kind of spell-casting and
black magic so familiar from the Great Wicca Wars, though such as there was
usually involved a novelty not much seen in Wicca of those days; rune magic.
By contrast, Asatru feuding normally depended on such tactics as
psychological intimidation, cutthroat politics, harrassment, group
disestablishment, poison pen campaigns, character assassination, extortion
and blackmail. Motives are usually obscure, and rarely even worth trying to
understand or analyze; attackers often may not really understand their own
motives themselves, or they may be the kinds of secret shameful things, like
the tactics themselves, that would be too embarrassing to admit to. You
just keep a weather-eye out, watch for trouble and deal with it when it
comes.

One thing, however, was actually quite novel, and in a way that I myself
found embarrassing. Back in the early eighties, when we were first
fantasizing a Ring of Troth that was still nothing more than a glint in
Edred's eye, my great folly was the anticipated coming of the personal
computer, and what that development could one day do for Heathenry, once such
gadgets became as ubiquitously commonplace as pocket calculators. What if we
could go beyond snail mail and magazines, and abolish our two great enemies,
time and distance, and let Heathen everywhere talk to each other and swap
info at will or whim; what would happen then? Well, now we've lived long
enough to see what would happen! And the first thing we learned was that it
could indeed do that, but the second was that it wasn't pretty, or at all
like my early eighties fantasies! For much of today's Heathenry my dream has
come true in spades, and computerized "virtual" Heathenry is the real
Heathenry to them, and the "real" flesh-and-blood Heathenry nothing but
background scenery. We accordingly have today not one Heathenry but two, and
they are very different worlds from each other which in general do not
interface or interact very well. "Virtual" Heathenry has brought along its
own weave of wyrd that no one ever foresaw, least of all me. Just as some
peoples' personalities change when they get behind the wheel of a car, ditto
ditto the keyboard and monitor screen. The effect is apt to be hypnotic and
compelling, and the behavior patterns addictive and degraded roleplaying.

It would be safe to say that we spent most of 1994 and 1995 fighting various
Asatru aetts on various fronts in both kinds of Heathenry. Given the
monstrosity of what we had encountered when we stumbled into the Asatru
community the way we did, one might well wonder why we did not just turn
around and go back where we came from; somehow "go local" again. But, of
course, you never really can go back, and Asatru won't let you in any case,
once it's got its hands on you, any more than Wicca will. Also, we spotted
some things right away that made us realize that Asatru was not necessarily
what it seemed. For one thing, it was not actually "hostile". Most of it was
in fact quite friendly! What Asatru actually is is merely chronically and
chaotically "out of control", like a Third World country. Behind all the
savagery of the attacks on us, we soon saw that what we were normally dealing
with were just a few deranged individuals, mostly a collection of misfit
people who were none too popular in the community themselves, while
ninety-five percent of "Asatru" were just rubbernecks and bystanders, not
involved themselves or who just didn't even care.

The plight of troth of the Wodenings had put into our hands a vital resource
that we were not slow to exploit; lore. Some sort of regular educational
system had been a crying concern going all the way back to the early days of
M.H.; now there was suddenly a way and a chance to do it. Playing
Alfred the Great, I charged my Wednesbury thanes with the task of creating
such a curriculum, chartered Wednesbury Kings School and began regularly
sending them the necessary resources to get the school up-and-running. It was
a huge job, but the Wodenings fell to the work with a will, and we were not
far along in it before we realized that the whole Reawakening community, and
not just the Theodish Rice, could stand to benefit from such an institution,
and we created a system of liberally cross-referencing the lesson-plan texts
to Asatru lore as well as Theodish, and opening the door to Asatru students.

Meanwhile, in the early days of the Prudence administration, enthusiasm was
high on the Troth High Rede, and all were still on the same page, or trying
to be, of "Troth building". In a memorable 1993 High Rede conference call,
when the subject turned to a Troth gathering projected to be hosted by Eagles
Reaches which now, with the dismissal of Ymir Thunarsson, wasn't going to
happen, we offered for the Theodish Rice to host a Waelburges gathering, at
Wednesbury, in Missouri. It was a shot at moving the Troth presence into the
Heartland, since no Troth gathering before that time had ever been held
outside of Texas or California. For most Heathen, the Troth had never
heretofore been able to shake the perception of being a Southwestern or West
Coast regional phenomenon, and we soon had in mind a program of gatherings
that could serve as the surest way to break it out of that trap, by steadily
marching it eastward in a series of official gatherings. The plan was quickly
accepted, and Idunna, ourselves and Wednesbury began a promo campaign for the
gathering, which in the end was held at a campground retreat in Kansas on the
weekend of Waelburges '94, the same site as the Troth Midsummer moot of 1996,
and featured three High Redesmen in attendance, Prudence, Gert and
then-Wordsmith Bill Bainbridge, and brought together some three dozen or so
folks, heretofore obscure and rarely seen, in one of the most memorable
symbel halls ever. It was chalked up as the program's first success, and we
next set sights on an East Coast gathering for Harvest. New York Steward Dan
O'Halloran and Raven Kindreds' Lew Stead had obviously been thinking along
similar lines, and arrangements for a gathering quickly jelled, to be hosted
by Dragon's Hearth in Pennsylvania. That gathering was even more successful,
and drew almost double the attendance of Waelburges. Momentum was obviously
building nicely!

Cashing in on such success, however, was never to be in the cards for the
Troth. The Troth rogue elements who had formed up against the Theodish Rice
began freaking. To them, we were trying to "take over" the Troth. We were a
cult; we were corrupting the minds of youth; we were trying to subvert
Asatru. Worst of all: we were "not Asatru". We were pretty puzzled by it all,
at first. Most of the Asatru old-timers had long been aware of us, of course,
but other than Prudence Priest, the cult of "Theodish-haters" were all
newcomers of the late eighties and after, who didn't know who we really were
and never bothered to actually find out, embracing a "Hate first and think
afterwards" philosophy that would have done credit to Wicca or the Spanish
Inquisition. We soon found out that the key to it all was Gamlinginn.

While we were busily "Troth-building" Eastward, Gamlinginn moved Westward,
systematically conning the "kitchen-cabinet" cult around Prudence Priest and
playing Iago to Prudence's Othello. Gamlinginn soon had Prudence believing
that Gert was out to take the Troth over with a Theodish coup d'etat, and had
her seeing Theodish or crypto-Theodish organizations all over the Troth and
crypto-Theodsmen behind every bush. It was obviously time to put the sick old
dog out of his misery, but when Gert McQueen filed a petition for
Gamlinginn's defrockment in November of 1994, she was astonished to see
Prudence take the petition and ballot that she had sent, add Gert's own name
to the ballot, and mail it out as a vote to remove Gert herself from the High
Rede!

It was obvious that Prudence was no longer competent for high office, if in
fact she ever had been, and it was time to ship her back to Wicca. It was the
beginning of the end for her Steersmanship. Outraged, Gert immediately called
for Prudence's impeachment... only to learn from other High Redesmen that it
couldn't be done! Prudence's control of her government was so absolute that
it would not be possible to get the votes to impeach her no matter what she
did! The Troth government, infiltrated and taken over by rogue elements, had
slid over the months into total degeneracy and chaos, and had neither the
means nor the will to right itself. As Rice's High Ambihtsthyle, Gert knew
that it was the sort of thing that, ethically, she could not afford to be
involved in. Gert promptly resigned and trudged off into the sunset and back
to the Theodish Rice, and thus did the Troth career of Gert McQueen come to
an end.
 
While other Theodsmen, seeing the writing on the wall, were packing up and
trudging out of the Troth and off to the bustling peace and serenity of what
was quickly coming to be called "Theodish country", Theodish Idunna Shope
Bill West stuck at his post, but of course not for long. Gamlinginn had
already been working for some months on conning Gay Activist Wil von Dauster
into becoming Bill's replacement, and Prudence quickly trumped up an issue
and stampeded the befuddled remnant of the High Rede into firing Bill.
Prudence was by then reduced to junketing back and forth between safe havens
and keeping herself otherwise incommunicado, only emerging long enough on
occasion to issue fiats and pronunciamentos. She abolished the High Stewartry
and fired Dan O'Halloran. Her government had obviously gone daft. Things had
come down to the level of accusing people like Dan of being secretly
Theodish, or of having secret pacts or troths with the Theodish Rice, above
and beyond the sworn troth that Dan actually had with the Theodish King that
was, like all Theodish oaths and treaties, a matter of public record. It was
clear that the only thing Theodish that Prudence wanted to keep was
Wednesbury Kings School, and that for other nefarious purposes of her own.
She had long dreamed of getting rid of Lore Warder and High Redesman
KveldulfR Gundarsson, and planned to fire him next. But with him, of course,
would go the Troth's whole Godman and Elder programs, and Prudence's plan
necessitated replacing them with Wednesbury Kings School, which Prudence and
a few cronies schemed and conspired with a truly Borgian shamelessness to get
their hands on.

Such a ploy was foredoomed and never to be, of course. Swain and Eric
Wodening of Wednesbury reminded Prudence that not only were they Theodish
Lords and honorable men, but that the school was just what its name said it
was; the King's school. And meanwhile, with the firing of Dan O'Halloran,
Prudence had finally met her Waterloo. Dan, ironically enough, arranged for
what he had only weeks before told Gert was impossible; the impeachment of
the Steerswoman. Prudence's government fell; on March 8, 1995, in the face of
a yea-vote of the High Rede for impeachment, she resigned from office, and
all but one of her supporters resigned with her.

There are aspects of the downfall of the Prudence regime that may never be
adequately explained or understood, outside of the context of Prudence's own
personality in its interactions with the personalities of the intimates of
her inner circle. Personally, Prudence Priest is an interesting character,
totally extroverted, undeniably charismatic, possessed of a strange, hooded
eagle-eye and a dark bronze voice that seems evocative, when she speaks in
company, of some essence of the very Earth Mother herself, able to "work a
crowd" like few other personalities in Heathenry, exhibiting at the same time
an arrogant "terrible twos" unconsciousness that may sometimes strike the
observer as almost feral. Listed by livelihood as the Super of a San
Francisco apartment complex, Prudence's real career is Paganry. It is not
easy to say even whether she ever took the Steerswomanship seriously, or the
Troth as a serious organization or anything more than an extension of her own
Freya's Folk garth, or her own role in it as anything more than that of a
gathering-hopping Pied Piper of Wiccatru. There can be no question that she
possesses organizational skills of a very high order, and is a good motivator
with an easy spontaneous on-the-spot mastery of any situation. Procedurally,
however, Prudence seems always to have treated the rules of her own
organization as if they were just made to be broken; many of her acts and
utterances over time have seemed not only to miss the whole point of a given
Troth "procedure", but to raise the question of whether a personality like
Prudence even grasps the concept of "procedure" at all. Certainly Prudence's
style of running the Troth was often characterized as that of the High
Priestess of an oversized Wicca coven, ruling not so much through the High
Rede as in spite of it, her "real" High Rede a totally separate nameless and
faceless entity; her own circle of Wiccatru intimates in her San Francisco
apartment complex, most of them not even Troth themselves, who were said by
some to have even regularly voted amongst themselves on Troth policies and
issues. Such an arrangement is of course an obvious recipe for disaster, and,
if true, explains a lot in itself. Had we but known where to look and had the
wits to do so, we ourselves, a continent away, might well have seen the
writing on the wall in the mysterious alchemy whereby Theodish copy,
traditionally Idunna's richest mother lode next to the writings of KveldulfR
Gundarsson, came so early on to be barred from Idunna, on the secret deemings
of that same "Kitchen Cabinet", much to the discomfiture of not only the
magazine itself, but over time the whole Troth, and in the end the very
government itself. At the same time as the Theodish Rice was gradually
becoming the most influential force developing in Troth-based Heathenry,
Idunna's two year cone of silence meant that, other than through our own
publications, no one, including even the Troth government itself, had any
practical way of finding out exactly who and what we were.

It was the "end of an error", yet even so, not without one more final and
supreme irony. During its death agonies in the early weeks of 1995,
Prudence's government played one last card that it may or may not ever have
actually been holding. It called for the restoration to power, as "Drighten",
of Troth founder Edred Thorsson. Edred himself even surfaced in the course of
things, and announced his willingness to assume such a post, and the
conditions under which he was willing to do it. For most people it was
impossible to tell just how serious he might be. Edred is a complex man, and
not of the temperament to stoop to or indulge in witch-wars and politics, and
whatever he will do he will normally do by some other and less usual means.
He was clearly not the kind to go foolishly blundering into the firestorm
that Prudence's government had created with no more hope or plan in mind than
to somehow micturate it out. Meanwhile, the reaction to what was termed "The
Comeback Kid" was darkly hostile on every hand. The Alliance said little
publicly but was privately infuriated, and already setting to strike.
Throughout the Troth community itself, many of those who knew Prudence's
government was falling before she did and who were already planning for the
aftermath were a new breed of Trothers known informally as "mainstreamers",
who thought that the real business of the Troth ought to be to "mainstream"
itself and Asatru into the profane Christian host community; just another
normal family religion like all the rest. This could only mean the Troth's
systematic marginalization of its traditional legacy of bizarre misfit people
and a cleaning up of its California-Weird image. Obviously, restoring a
"Satanist" to the top office, with virtually the powers of a king, was
something that just could not be made to work; it would be a death-blow to
such prospects. If this was a problem, however, Edred himself solved it for
everyone. One of his stipulations was that his Drightenship could only go
into effect pending a unanimous vote of approval by the High Rede on or
before a certain date. That was Bill Bainbridge's cue to stand up immediately
and publicly register his "nay" vote on the electronic bulletin boards,
whereupon Edred, and not without a parting cannonade of grapeshot across Bill
Bainbridge's decks, some of the more colorful portions of it in Old Norse,
announced his immediate and permanent severance in 1995 of any and all
connections with the organization that he had mused about with Bragwin James
and me in 1982 and '83 and gone on to found in 1987. Which may, of course, be
what Edred had had in mind all along, for all anyone would know outside of
his own circle of intimates. In 1992, Edred had sought to bring the Troth a
bit more down to earth with the appointment of Prudence Priest, a Wiccan, or
as some would say, "Vanatruari", as Steerswoman, to, as Edred put it, "loosen
things up." And of course the Prudence regime did loosen things up
dramatically, over time, and finally to the point of sociopolitical
dysentery. Lofty-mindedness slowly but surely degraded down past a point that
would have been too broad to even play as farce, and, in the end, collapsed
into total fiasco. Like a natural disaster, the Troth is not something that
Bill Bainbridge's rescue and relief efforts, however well organized and
energetically implemented, are going to fix overnight.

At this point, we feel that this memoir ought to be suspended for awhile.
There is much more that might be told, of course, but not without touching
upon current events, and too much of our "history" now keeps morphing and
sliding willy-nilly from proper "historifying" into what is more properly
mere "editorializing". Meanwhile, the tale is more and more that of the
interactions between Theodish Belief and Asatru, a tale which, strange as it
has been so far, is really only beginning to unfold itself and may get much
stranger before all is said and done. Often as not, the biggest player on its
stage has not even been us, but the Troth itself, with whom we had been so
long and intimately involved. Certainly most of our story's dramatic tensions
and agonies have devolved upon the Troth rather than ourselves as its lead
characters, with the Troth as the still-invalided major casualty of a long
and monstrous war that, like most wars, should never have happened in the
first place. Can it possibly be so long ago and far away as it seems, that
the Troth seemed to seethe with the heady excitement of being Heathenry's
authentic hope for tomorrow, with its stable of commercial writers and huge
real-world interface, seeming to leave even major aetts like the Alliance
with no choice but to lead if they could, or follow, or just get out of the
way? Even today, the Troth hangs on somehow, with a membership in the
hundreds, but knowing that by rights it should really be in the thousands,
and hardly knowing what to do with the membership it still may have, lacking
as it does any real means to husband what they have or any credible shared
collective vision of how best to go about it. The Troth cast a wide net, and
hauled it in heavy-laden, only to find itself too awash in the tossing seas
of circumstance and human folly to keep it shipped aboard, as the mounting
casualties of constant warfare invalided people out faster than new blood
could be mustered in, and today, through nothing but its own folly, that old
inspiration lies daunted and dinted and pounded into spiritual somnolence at
the hands of the last people in the world who would have ever wished to do
the Troth any hurt. Meanwhile, looking back, we Theodish have complained a
lot, and perhaps more than we ought to have, considering the flowering
naissance of Theodish Heathenry and culture that has bloomed so brilliantly
all through this same time period, like nothing the Reawakening had ever seen
before, and by and large to the benefit not just of ourselves but of the
whole community, all the while that we ourselves stood locked in such a
desperate struggle with this giant enemy of ours which should really never
have been our enemy, and probably never intended to be, but just never quite
knew how not to be. It is this kind of flowering that might be said to be any
Heathen aett's "Gross National Product"; ours has consistently been the
marvel of the Reawakening, there for gods and folk, and the disparity speaks
for itself.

Some have wondered how we manage to be so productive, in the midst of such
adversity as we have faced. Do we have thralls slaving away round the clock
in dungeon sweatshops, far from the light of day, doing all this? You bet;
please don't tell OSHA on us. In some ways, however, this "abundance" has
been an ongoing embarrassment to us. If we are "different", as it seems plain
enough by now that we are, and if we are outperforming others, then it is
only natural that many will never dare to admit that Theodish Belief is "as
good as" Asatru for fear of being forced to admit that we're "better". We've
never looked at it that way ourselves, in fact, and feel a bit sorry for
those who do. As far as I am concerned, the real founder of the Reawakening
in America is Steve McNallen, not me, and the energy one spends on worrying
about petty jealousies and rivalries like that could be much better invested
in getting busy and doing something. It does, however, give us a certain
credibility as probably having something worthwhile to say to the community,
and if I were asked what that something might be, I think that perhaps it
might be this. Our power is not based on all the slave labor we have working
for us, and the real differences in quality between Theodism and Asatru have
little enough to do with our notorious differences in social structure; our
"slave" society vs. Asatru's "free" one. The difference is in the most
"democratic" thing of all, equally open to everyone; the world of ideas. Our
power lies not in our slavery but in our freedom; our unique freedom from the
oppression of ideologies, ideologies of any and all descriptions from far
Left to far Right such as bedevil and oppress and grind down under heel every
quarter of Asatru everywhere one looks. At the same time, the reason that
Asatru numbers itself in hundreds instead of millions is this: Asatru's
historical dearth of ideas. We are not just some cheap knockoff of something
else, some better-known bandwagon to try to hop aboard like Neopaganry or
Wicca, after all, that just doesn't quite know how to do it right; no indeed,
we are our own unique thing, and there really has to be an idea behind that,
or else why should anyone else get interested in trying it on their own brain
for size? Well, then, so why is there this idea-dearth in Asatru? Are
Asatruers stupid? Hel no; not at all. Asatruers are just systematically
ground down by all the inherited ideologies of the past that they have never
been able to shake free of, in the suppression of all the thoughts and ideas
that you do not dare to think or utter, for fear of what your co-religionists
will do to you if they catch you. It's the world's worst kind of thralldom,
and in that sense, as I editorialized earlier this year in THEOD, Asatruers
are the world's most "conservative" people, clinging desperately to every
obsolete ideology in the Western world to the bitter end. If I were Pope of
Asatru, my first edict would be the striking off of all these shackles; the
systematic banning of any and all ideologies throughout the religion, the
summary burning at the stake of any Asatruer caught espousing or promoting
any ideology of any kind but common sense, and the total concentration on
religion and the gods instead, because in fact that is where it is really at,
and everything else is just a game. Games don't cut it; you really have to
get serious to ever matter, and for that you must have freedom; the freedom
to think and to come up with ideas. And you can't have ideas and ideologies
too; the two don't mix and the twain will never meet. So ends, for a little
while, the story of the evolution of the Theodish Rice and of Theodish Belief.