-Waermund Waeda 

   Awhile ago, some friends from a fellow Asatru kindred and I spent a few 
days at a Pagan gathering in Michigan.  We talked with a number of quite 
interesting people, we saw some fine samples of Pagan hand craft, we admired 
many excellently endowed, scantily clad Pagan ladies, we went through several 
gallons of mead, we made obnoxious remarks to one another about some of the 
more bizarre people and events, we performed a Sumble for the curious and the 
thirsty--in short, we behaved exactly like who we are, and we had a ripping 
good time.  When we left, we carried with us two im- portant perceptions. The 
first is that we are indeed quite different, in our practices and in the way we
see the world, from other Pagans.  The second is that, with a minimal effort on
both sides, our differences prevented neither us nor anyone else there from 
getting along, enjoying one another's company, and having fun. 
   Any religion that seriously seeks a future for itself must create a 
"community of the faithful."  That is one of the things that separates 
religion from art, psychotherapy or a single-minded devotion to, say, auto 
mechanics.  It is also the way in which a religion becomes a metaphor for the 
coherence in the midst of chaotic diversity that men and women have sought to 
realize in their lives for practically as long as there have been men and 
women.  To succeed, a religion must be able to create within its confines a 
more manageable, but no less whole and inclusive, replica of the society or 
people from which it grows.  It is not surprising that North American Asatru, 
as a very young religion, is not yet accomplishing the task of creating such a 
community.  What is truly disturbing, however, is that it doesn't seem even to 
be trying. 
   To date, Asatruarfolk in this country have organized themselves in 
accordance with one or another of two basic patterns: the kindred and the 
hierarchical "church."  Neither of these, by itself, is well-suited to the 
creation of a true community.  The kindred is modeled after the extended family
or, if it succeeds, the tribe.  Its very existence depends on drawing a "magic 
circle," separating itself from the "outside"; there are natural limits to how 
much diversity it may include without losing its essential character.  The 
hierarchical organization arrives at the same result through different means; 
it can become infinitely large and in- clusive, but the leaders at the top 
determine what parts of the whole are "significant," and they generally do 
this by promoting within the organization those who have essentially the same 
world-view as themselves.  Those excluded from the inner circle, if they have 
any sense and self-esteem, eventually lose interest and leave.  Because we 
are a people of free men and women, not followers, we cannot remain satisfied
with creating a community in the shadow of a hierarchy--the Reformation is an 
excellent historical example of this principle at work. 
   That is not to say that kindreds and hierarchies are not useful, and even 
necessary; they are both.  Kindreds create a sense of belonging, and hier- 
archies get things done.  Neither our kindreds nor our hierarchies are stable, 
however, without reference to a community; by themselves, they are too 
unbalanced.  To give perhaps the most obvious example, Asatru has been 
unsuccessful in attracting significant numbers of women, apart from the wives 
and girlfriends of Asatruarmenn.  This is perfectly natural: why shouldn't most
women who are interested in Pagan spirituality be drawn to those traditions 
primarily emphasizing the Goddess?  However, if Asatru, consisting mostly of 
men, cuts itself off from the rest of Paganism, then it will remain inherently 
instable.  And this is only one of many forms of imbalance that affect Asatru 
in America. 
   The point of all this is quite simple: Asatru, as presently constituted, 
cannot create a true community, but Paganism can.  Asatru needs a com- munity, 
and one is already out there, in the process of formation, open to our 
participation.  All we need do to become a part of it is to acknowledge that we
are simply one part of a greater whole, and to let the other parts follow their
different paths without worrying ourselves about what, in any event, is none of
our business.  Given that Asatru has always seemed to make it a point of honor 
that it is not a universal religion, why don't we carry our premise to its 
logical conclusion, and recognize that an in- dividual branch cannot realize 
its destiny in isolation from the tree of which it is a part?  Because our 
faith is not universal, we will always need things, both obvious and subtle, 
from others, and to pretend otherwise is psychologically unhealthy.  In joining
with other Pagans, we will not lose our character as a proud and independent 
religion.  Rather, we will fully realize our character, and achieve wholeness 
and stability, only by becoming responsible and productive, if somewhat 
outrageous, members of the greater Pagan community. And I expect we will have a
better time, as well. 
                            * end *