Image of different heathen symbols
by Gus Cromwell, photo editor
On Jan. 6, 2021 the United States Capitol was besieged by a violent, pro-Trump mob intent on overturning the results of the election and potentially harming lawmakers. A face many saw in the headlines was the “Qanon-Shaman” Jake Angeli. Outlets like Rolling Stone took the time to fixate on his tattoos and attire. The issue is that many of the symbols Angeli had poorly tattooed on him belong to a religion that is striving for legitimacy while fighting back against some terrible people within and outside of their faith.
That religion goes by many names including, but not limited to Heathenry, Asatru, and Norse paganism. While these have differences between them, they all have one main thing in common: the use of Viking symbols and the worship of their gods like Odin, Thor, and more. In this religion, these symbols play a key role for many.
The topmost symbol on Angeli is the Valknut or the knot of the slain. It has been associated with death and sacrifice in pagan practices and is significant to many practitioners. The symbol directly below the Valknut is Yggdrasil, the world tree. In religion, it has become a representation of how we’re all interconnected. The final symbol on Angeli’s body is Mjolnir. It’s a protection symbol that has been worn on pendants for millennia. Its use in modern times by many non-pagans has become a big issue.
In 2017, Mjolnir was worn by many during the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville. These people, like Angeli, are often not followers of the religion. These people often believe the Vikings were a pure white society. Scandanavian studies expert Natalie Van Deusen argues that this belief has no historical backing whatsoever, and she points out how this thinking was influenced by Nazi-era historical interpretations. These racists not only misinterpret history, but they appropriate and use the symbols to push their agenda. For example, because of them, the aforementioned protection symbol of Mjolnir is listed as a hate symbol by the Anti Defamation League. This makes it very difficult for pagans and polytheists to practice their faith.
The world doesn’t get easier for Pagans either with racists even being found within their religion. One of the worst, racist pagan groups is the Asatru Folk Assembly (the AFA). These racist pagans believe that only white people of German or Scandinavian descent can connect with the gods.
Groups like these are called “Folkists,” “Volkists,” or “Neo-Volkists.” Stephen McNallen, the founder of the AFA, is the barometer for Folkism in heathenry. He has many popular books and openly spouts Nazi-era ideas and believes in the supposed “Islamification of Germany”. He has since left the organization to Matthew Flavel. Part four from their statement of ethics along with other statements within their rules show that they are against adoption, interracial marriage and that they really only care about white people.
This activity led to the so-called “Declaration 127” which was signed in droves by heathen organizations and practitioners to make it clear that they did not support the AFA. The declaration states “The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit. They are free to stand alone.” This makes it fully clear how people feel, and this declaration is often used to litmus test whether or not someone is okay to trust for information or to join.
As Declaration 127 states, the values of these racists do not represent heathens or the pagan faith in general. Yet they continue to be prominent. The religion itself is working very hard to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the masses, but outsiders and racists continue to hold them back.
Whether or not you agree with this religion and its principles, it’s important to know that the people you see in the media and people like Stephen McNallen, Matt Flavel, and anyone affiliated with the AFA do not represent them. Outsiders and people on the alt right who wear these symbols do not represent this faith either.