Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pagan Resurrection, by David Barrett

Norse mythology and its (dubious) links with modern-day extremists

Odinism has had a greater influence on modern Western thought than has Christianity. That's the provocative thesis of Pagan Resurrection by the anthropologist and broadcaster Richard Rudgley - but his book just doesn't make the case. Rudgley begins with the psychoanalyst Jung linking Nazism with the Norse/Germanic god Odin/Wotan, and arguing that Odin's archetype is still very powerful.

After briefly looking at the myth of Odin and the development of the runes, he discusses the interest of various proto-Nazis in this mythology, and the Nazis' co-option of some runic symbolism. Nothing too controversial so far. But then the author starts examining ultra-right-wing groups in America, from the Ku Klux Klan onwards, and claiming that they too spring from Odin's archetypal loins.

This simply ignores reality. Today's American far right are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Such racist groups as Christian Identity are characterised as having a gun in one hand and a Bible, not the Eddas, in the other. Is the killing of 168 people by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma in 1995 really one of the "horrors" generated by "the unconscious manifestation of the Odinic archetype"? Of course not. But it's here, along with several other American right-wing incidents.

Nowhere does Rudgley show any awareness that archetypes, like Tarot cards and the gods in most pantheons, hold within them contradictions and opposites. The strong, benevolent leader and the tyrant are flipsides of each other. Throughout the book he concentrates on the dark side of Odin. Even here he is committing the ultimate sin of any anthropologist or historian, back-projecting from highly selective examples of unpleasantness today and photo-fitting them to a distorted image from the mythological past.

Only in the final 45 pages does he make any attempt to look at the positive side, the living religion of Odinism, Asatru or the Northern Tradition today. Even then, he spends almost no time on the beliefs and practices of thousands who prefer to be called Heathens, though he calls them Pagans. Rudgley starts his book by calling it "the biography of a god", and ends by claiming it as "an ethnography... an exploration of the cultural history of the myths of the northern European mind". It is neither, but a catalogue of racist individuals and organisations whose only connection with Odin, through very dubious links, is by assertion rather than argument.



Anonymous said...

This is a direct reproduction of an article from the Independent Online written by David Barrett and should really be credited as such.

Alkman said...

Thank you for the correction, it is credited as such now.