Interview conducted by Joseph S. Hopkins over the course of January 2016 via e-mail.
The fourth entry in Mimisbrunnr.info's Six Questions series is an interview with American academic and Heathen Kevin French. Outside of his academic work, French maintains a popular following via his Tumblr blog, where he regularly fields questions regarding topics such as North Germanic religion, runology, and Germanic linguistics.
French is additionally moderator for Fuck Yeah Norse Mythology, a Tumblr blog that functions as something of an aggregate for posts on Norse mythology within the Tumblr community, ranging from art to discussion threads. French's Tumblr activities provide a window into how Germanic Heathenry exists and operates on a popular internet platform in 2016.
1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in central New Jersey suburbs, never too far from the shore.
2. Can you remember when you first encountered Norse mythology or, more generally, Germanic mythology? And what was the context?
I can't remember my first encounter. I remember learning what the day names meant when I was eight or nine in school. When I was around fourteen we had an assignment wherein we had to compare creation myths; I chose to compare Norse with Indian mythology, at least partially because it was something other than the Egyptian/Greek/Roman stuff we'd been taught for years.
This was also right around when I was getting into heavy metal which came to be a major part of my life for years, and in particular the album Vansinnesvisor by the band Thyrfing had just come out and had a huge impact on me. It wasn't until college that I started really actively seeking out primary sources.
3. How would you describe your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)?
They are in constant upheaval and rarely come to rest for long enough to describe them collectively. It seems like once a week one small piece of my worldview changes in some way that requires me to reanalyze the rest. I am very non-literalist and have a lot of phenomenological influence so I tend to be more concerned with the experience of religion than how it relates to any sort of objective reality.
I seem to have a capacity for religious expression that preexists it being populated with discrete ideas that make it accessible and expressible and I suspect this applies to others as well. I believe that capacity for religion is primary over any actual religious idea, therefore what we recognize as divinity is actually a very special kind of humanity. Some people might read this as atheistic but it's not necessarily an explicit denial of gods independent of humanity (about which I am sort of a wishy-washy agnostic), rather it's an assertion that the reception of divinity is necessarily reflexive.
The logical conclusion is a heathenism with the goal of bringing forth and maintaining divinity-and-therefore-humanity into the world. I understand that the Lithuanian pagan philosopher Vydūnas had similar things to say about “humanity” but unfortunately since I don't know Lithuanian and my German (the other language he wrote in) is very bad, I haven't been able to engage his work directly.
4. How would you describe your political beliefs (or lack thereof)?
I am a libertarian socialist. I learned about it mostly via Chomsky, and in fact while I've rejected authority and hierarchy for years as a matter of ethics, I only started really learning about the history and transmission of anarchist thought at the same time that I became interested in generative grammar – itself an outgrowth of my interest in Germanic historical linguistics. My biggest influence is probably Rudolf Rocker and I consider anarcho-syndicalism the best way to maximize freedom. I also consider there to be correspondence between my political beliefs and the “goal” described in the previous answer (particularly, correspondence between this “humanity” and maximizing individual liberty).
5. Do you have a formal academic background in Germanic studies? If not, where do you do your research on the topic?
I have a master's degree in Medieval Norse studies from the University of Iceland and have also studied at the University of Copenhagen.
6. How does Norse mythology and/or general Germanic mythology influence your creative output?
Most of my output is not especially creative. I work a lot with Old Norse and Proto-Norse language (and other related topics) and directly with Norse mythological texts but not in any capacity that could be called “creative” without being highly interpretive. Often if I am trying to learn a new skill, like a programming language or a graphics program, I use Norse mythology and religion as subject matter.
Joseph S. Hopkins would like to thank Kevin French for his participation.