An FBI Operation, Germanic Heathenry, and Media Representation

The god Bragi sings while the goddess Iðunn reclines in an 1895 illustration by Lorenz Frølich. From Wikimedia Commons.

Media misrepresentation is a problem for minority religions in the United States. New religious movements and minority religions generally receive little media attention until some negative event occurs. In these cases, provided details regarding an associated minority religion can often be misleading or outright fabrications. Wicca, for example, experienced exactly these issues—likely resulting in the conviction (and subsequent placement on death row) of Damien Echols, for example—until a shift in its media representation occurred largely in the 1990s and into the 2000s.*

Germanic Heathenry is a religion (or a group of religions) often grouped together with Wicca as a "Neopagan religion". Germanic Heathenry has seen an explosion of adherents over the last few decades and it may well be eclipsing Wicca in terms of both media representation and number of adherents. However, no such media shift as seen with Wicca has so far occurred with coverage of Germanic Heathenry. Signs of change regarding this situation may be appearing via positive media reports about Iceland's Ásatrúarfélagið and by way of the efforts of some dedicated heathens and educators such as Karl E. H. Seigfried, but all too often a misleadingly hyper-masculine, prison-associated, and white supremacist version of the religion dominates media attention of the topic.

Recently such an example has been given renewed attention due to media reports around an undercover FBI operation that resulted in charges that two men in Virginia were planning to attack black churches and Jewish synagogues as well as a variety of other felonies. However, as Heather Greene at The Wild Hunt writes, the fact that the accused plotters claimed a form of Germanic Heathenry as their religion has become a media angle:

As written in the FBI report by Special Agent James Rudisill, “Doyle and Chaney … ascribe to a white supremacy extremist version of the Asatru faith.”

After news broke, the Asatru angle quickly went from a footnote in a long FBI report to a news maker and, in some cases, even a headline. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article, one of the first, clarified to its readers, “Asatru is a pagan religion.” And, the media cycle moved from there.

Some news agencies, such as CNN and ABC, did not ever mention the men’s religious affiliation, choosing to focus on the foiled crime. Others offered varying degrees of explanation from simply quoting the FBI document verbatim to inserting some limited facts about the religion. The Washington Post, for example, simply added “neo-pagan” into the FBI quote. Then, others went further exploring the white supremacy connection to Asatru. The Daily Beast went so far as to interview such a group with the added commentary, “Because pagans gonna pagan.”

Readers are encouraged to read the rest of The Wild Hunt's article here.

* See for example Pike, Sarah M. 2012. "Wicca in the News" in Winston, Diane (editor). The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media, pp. 289-303. Oxford University Press. Feature on Old Norse Influence on English

Online language learning resource has published a feature on the influence of the Old Norse lexicon, most famous as the language of the vikings, on Modern English. From the article:

Two figures from a Vendel Period plate from Öland, Sweden, probably not discussing cake.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks to the cross-cultural fermentation that occured [sic] in the Danelaw – and later when England was temporarily absorbed into Canute the Great’s North Sea Kingdom – the English language is much closer to that of its Scandinavian neighbors than many acknowledge. By the time that the Norman conquest brought the irreversible influence of French, Old English had already been transformed beyond its Anglo-Saxon roots.

The article goes on to list 139 words from Old Norse found in modern English, from names for days and animals to words regarding war, violence, society, and culture. Also, cake.

The article also links to a fascinating 2012 study claiming English is a Scandinavian language, and a list of Yorkshire dialect words from Old Norse.

Potential Viking Age Site Washed Away by Flood in Southern Iceland

The volcano Hekla as depicted in a 16th century illustration from Olaus Magnus's Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus. From Wikimedia Commons.

An unexcavated archaeological site, potentially from the Viking Age, was washed away by a glacial lake outburst flood in South Iceland earlier this autumn. Iceland Magazine reports:

Uggi Ævarsson, the Cultural Heritage Manager of South Iceland[,] tells RÚV that the ruins had neither been charted nor catalogued, let alone explored by archaeologists.

This is all the more serious because the ruins could have dated back to the Viking Age, he tells RÚV: “This is a great loss. Now we are missing another piece of the puzzle which is the settlement history of Skaftártunga region. These floods come regularly here, and then the nearby volcano Hekla also has her regular eruptions, all of which makes the settlement history of this region extremely interesting.”

Glacial lake outburst floods are highly destructive. Outside of priceless loss to the historic record that the loss of such a site may cause, this particular flood caused significant damage to the region, washing away a road and causing damage to several farms in the region, resulting in losses of "ISK Hundreds of Millions" as reported by Iceland Review Online.