One of several people who’ve expressed interest in contributing to Seigfried’s anthology is Diana Paxson. She grew up Christian, but, she told me, “I found that ecstatic religious experience was a lot more accessible in paganism than it was in Christianity. The gods are alive, well, and eager to party.” A founder of the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry, she also spoke at the Frith Forge conference. Back home in Berkeley, she’s considering submitting an essay that uses the myth of Ragnarök—an apocalyptic event featuring floods and fires—to offer a heathen view on climate change. “To fight beside the gods of Ragnarök today means to get really involved in environmental protection and all the political structures that support it,” she said.
If Seigfried’s main strategy is theological, Paxson’s is political; she believes in the power of protest. “Before the last election, we in the U.S. could claim some liberal moral superiority. This is no longer the case,” she told me. “Ever since January I’ve been attending whatever rallies and marches I could and displaying heathen symbols. … We have to be out there with placards and slogans and banners. Every time they [racists] come out with their message, we need to get out there with ours.”
Paxson’s emphasis on public denunciations of bigotry is mirrored by heathen groups and Viking enthusiasts across the globe. Sweden, for example, is home to Vikings Against Racism, a network of people attempting to rescue old Norse iconography from misuse. They regularly show up at far-right events and other demonstrations. When the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group that uses the ancient Týr rune as its logo, recently paraded through the streets of a Swedish city, it found itself vastly outnumbered by counter-demonstrators from Vikings Against Racism.
In Germany, where Viking symbols were coopted by the Third Reich, many heathens are particularly wary of misappropriation today. Ulrike Pohl, a member of the Eldaring, a German heathen group, told me she carefully screens the Facebook page of anyone who asks to join the group, checking to see whether their “likes” betray any racist leanings. Another organization, Nornirs Ætt, researches the way heathen ideas as filtered through Nazism manifest themselves in contemporary far-right groups, which it exposes online through its “Odin’s Eye” project. “I think it’s possible to take back the authentic runes, and to take back the narrative, through education—with new members as well as with the public,” Pohl said.
The battle has come to Canada, too. The Soldiers of Odin—a far-right group founded by a Finnish white supremacist in 2015—now has chapters in about a dozen Canadian cities. Members go out on street patrols that Muslims and other minorities describe as intimidating. But even within the Soldiers of Odin, there’s fracturing over race. In April, the head of the Canadian group, Bill Daniels, publicly denounced the Finnish organization for “racist, unorganized, reckless wannabe thug collaboration.” He was promptly ousted.