What do I think of Diana Paxson’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I always try to be going through at least one book that either directly disagrees with me or is from a worldview that I do not share. In this case, while looking for another one, I remembered how a couple of years ago I had been at Wal-Mart and I think I had a book on the resurrection with me and someone saw it. He then told me that he was a follower of Norse religion.
I had enough experience in the field to recognize this as Asatru. I went to Kindle immediately to see if I could find a good book on the topic really trying to explain it well. It would be easy to find something that didn’t treat it seriously but was more on a popular level, but I wanted something as scholarly as possible.
In the end, I chose Essential Asatru, by Diana Paxton. I started the book then, but just never finished it as other things came up, but when I wanted something new, I decided to go back and start it again. I wanted to know what these people really believed and also why they believed it.
To many of us, it can sound strange to be a follower of Norse religion. Most of us when we hear that think of Thor and then we think of the Avengers. You want to follow a deity who is in a comic book? (That is a topic that never came up in the book. Many followers consider themselves heathens and I would like to have known what they thought of a deity of theirs being a comic book character. Are they allowed to see the movies or read the books and enjoy them or is that sacrilege?)
Yet as I pondered it further, I thought perhaps it isn’t that strange. Areas like Iceland still hold to a lot of tradition such as a large number of people over there believe in elves. If you’re going to believe in some deity or deities, and I contend secularism has left such a hole, and for whatever reason you don’t want to go with the monotheistic faiths, why not go back to the religions that have some historical precedent?
The book has several chapters with each starting with a scene from a get-together in the Asatru religion involving passing around a horn filled with ale of some kind and sharing together. Then each chapter will go into a different point about Asatru and how practitioners worship in it. It is certainly a look into a world unfamiliar to most of us.
Many of this is also a history of beliefs of the people in Scandinavia with many times talking about how Christianity intersected with the culture. There can be a bit of what can look like ancestor worship, but I suspect it’s much more just wanting to honor the great heroes of the past. The closest parallel I can come up with from the Christian perspective is the way Catholics and Orthodox tend to have feasts and days to honor saints, all the while not worshipping them.
Then the book goes into a description of the different deities in Norse religion, which yes, includes Thor. If you are interested in Norse mythology, as I do happen to have an interest in such though mainly in Greek, this could be a fascinating part for you. Loki is included and I found it interesting that different gatherings have different rules on how to treat Loki and it’s best to ask before coming to one’s first meeting.
The final chapter deals with day to day lives of heathens and how they are when they gather together. This includes ethical beliefs as well as how religion is practiced with regard to priests and priestesses and events like weddings and funerals. Would there be such a thing as an Asatru seminary one day? It doesn’t look like there will be any time soon, but the writer herself is a priestess so they do exist.
So in the end, of course, I don’t agree with Norse paganism beliefs, but I am glad I am now more informed about them. I suspect that as time goes on, we will see more and more such beliefs rise up as secularism leaves a hole and many people have too many negative associations with Christianity (Such as supposedly hating people who are same-sex attracted or being anti-science). While we as Christians disagree, we can recognize the clues of the God-shaped hole and the longing of people to seek something beyond themselves.
It’s up to us to give them that.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)