“Ásatrú in Sweden”
by Mikael Perman
In history we learn that Olof Skötkonung was baptised ca. 1050, and then all of Sweden was Christianized. Well, that is very far from the truth. To clear the misunderstanding I will try to explain the role of religion in general, and the Ásatrú (forn) in some more detail.
Sweden, Finland and Iceland did very slowly turn to Christianity indeed. Around 1150 the higher classes of central Sweden were Christianized, but that was far from the truth when it came to the more remote areas. We must remember that Sweden of this time was a very low populated country, and that Finland was a part of Sweden, especially the Swedish speaking population along the coastline of Finland. They still speak Swedish in these areas.
Northern Sweden was and is wilderness, far from governmental control. In some areas such as Lappland, even today there is a population of less than 1 person per square kilometer. There is an old Swedish saying that "oaks and noblemen, never cross the river Dalälven", which enters the Baltic some 100 km north of Stockholm, leaving 2/3 of the country north of that line.
In this area we have Swedes, Finns and the Saami people. The Saamis are non- Germanic, but have more in common with people in northern Siberia, and they were not considered Christians until the early 1900-century. Some of them are still traditional pagans today. They have a mix of arctic shamanism and Ásatrú. In this area of Sweden there is no question about whether they have had shamanism or not. It was the norm. They were using drums, and some 70 different drums can still be seen in different museums in Sweden and Europe.
There are people telling us that there are free drums around even today, and in fact several of the Saami people have started to make traditional drums again.
Among the Saami, the art of magical singing is still very active, one of the names of this is "jojk". It is also in northern Sweden you will find traditional healers among Swedish, Saami and Finnish people. There are a growing number of Saamis both young and old that have started to take up their traditional ways again. This is not without problems as the Saami is one of the very few groups in Sweden with strong Christian beliefs today. But as in most other parts of western Europe, this problem is getting smaller and smaller.
In the rest of Sweden, the religious situation is interesting. About 80% of the population are members of the state protestant church. Compared to other Christian churches it is very tolerant; they have an ongoing exchange with other religions, even with us. (There are a few very traditional priests, but they are not having any real influence). The Swedish state-church was the first to allow women to become priests. They accept birth control and abortion, just to mention a few points where they do not take a traditional Christian standpoint. When we have discussions with them, we even sometimes say that we don't need to start a new Ásatrú group, we need only to wait for another 100 years and the Swedish church will turn into one. And in fact there have been a few priests that have used runes for divination, entered shamanistic practices in the church-work for young people, etc. There is controversy about this, but it is there.
Does it mean that 80% of the Swedes are Christian? Far from it. In research, they have found out that about 35% of the people are strictly atheists. It is the second largest group.
The biggest one is a group with about 40% of the population. It is a group with non- Christian world-view. They believe in something the researchers describe as a pantheistic nature view and belief. They also believe in destiny. Scientists describe them as similar to Buddhists, and in fact a lot of them believe in reincarnation, but not in the Buddhist sense. They generally don't have a strong moral approach to their belief. They have no creed and no organization. They have no names, no gods, and no books. Some of them consider themselves as Christians, which is very funny. We also have several members in Sveriges Asatrosamfund that belong to this group, and they are in general not changing any of their views, but they get a language, they get symbols, and people to talk to. So even if this is not Forn sed in the traditional sense, there are a lot of common points, and maybe a way of the future for a lot of Swedes.
The rest of the population, some 20-25% are belonging to other religious groups. In Sweden there is some 10-15% of non-Scandinavian immigrants, and in general they have kept their religion. Therefore you have a bigger group that are active Catholics than active state-church protestants in Sweden.
With this as a general situation in Sweden it is not possible to keep the state church, and year 2001, it will be discontinued. It is the biggest religious event since 1050, but Swedes in general don’t know about it, or don’t care. As of that date, it will be possible for us to be a recognized religious group, conduct weddings, etc., if we keep up to the standards for organization, education of our gydhja and gode, and so on.
In this we try to fit in. Sveriges Asatrosamfund is a small group; we have only some 350 members, mostly in Stockholm, but we have also started up some five godord (Local groups with gydhja/gode) around in Sweden. We try to move slowly. We also try to use and slightly change the normal way of celebration at Jul and Midsommar. The Swedish "Christmas" has never been called Christmas, but always "Jul". It is not hard to do that, since even in the public view, most consider Jul and Midsommar to be a traditional pagan celebration. This is especially true for Midsommar, when we try to have a completely open celebration that anyone can take part in. The last two years we have had it on Adelsö, an island next to Birka.We also stress the family, so it is often that members take others from their family with them to our "blot".
We have had a lot of good publicity. People in general have started to know that we are around, and that we are a completely open organization; that we are not racist, or fundamentalistic. I have been on the national radio four times now, and some other members have also. National newspapers have made reports approximately 15 times. There is even one doctor of religion at the university of Stockholm that is openly Ásatrú today, as there is one that is openly Wiccan.
We have had big, public discussions with several of Sweden’s universities. We have had a far bigger impact than we have numbers. Our homepage has been visited by some 16,000 people from the start, and that is may seem to be a small number; but you must remember that the home-page is in Swedish only, and the Swedish population is 8-9 million people.
The biggest issue now, is to start up a gode/gydhja education, and it seems like we will be able to start that in January. I have got a lot of inspiration from your program for your godfolk. Since laws and regulations are different in Sweden, they are not identical. We also try to use the living Swedish folk traditions and not Germanic in general; thus, we use modern Swedish spelling for words like Oden, Tor, sejd, etc. In general we always try to adapt to the modern Swedish society. When we have been accepted as a religion again, I and several others from Ásatrú want to start to reclaim holy places.
There are several other groups in Sweden following the Forn sed, and if you look at them in general, they are non-racist, but they are much more closed than we are. They are trying to make some sort of general cooperation between all groups, and we hope that they will only have non-racist groups there, so we can take part in that. This is still very new, and not really working yet. If this will be the case in the future, we will have some 2000 organized people in one common organization. This is still small. What we need is that all 20,000 general pagans come together and work in a general way for our rights in society.
Why are we so small? I think that there are several answers. First of all, a historical reason. It is been a problem to stand for your beliefs in public, and to be taken seriously. There have been a lot of suspicions. From a political point of view, from Christians, and from a very secular society in general. There have been some Nazis around, and in Sweden the higher parts of society are very sensitive to this.
Denmark and Norway were occupied during the war, and they can have their Viking heritage without any form of blame. In Sweden a lot of the people in the government and in high positions did not resist the Nazis, but cooperated. And we all know that a few of the Nazis made use of our Ásatrú in their own manipulative way. After the war, the Swedish leading society members had to, in some way, prove themselves to be non-influenced by Nazi ideology. Then, it was very easy to try to find someone to blame. If that group was Nazi-influenced or not, was not the case. They used what they had at hand, so that in the eye of the public maybe that could be seen as Nazi influenced. I think that we have started to break through this by being very open, and by having very clear statutes. But it is not for us only to blame others. We must also look at ourselves.
The pagan movement in general is a very young one when it comes to a working, full tradition. And there have been a lot of very self-indulgent people with a low level of responsibility and common sense in pagan groups in general. They have been in bad connection to reality. They have liked to keep themselves under a small master for a small group. Their discussions have very much been from a very non- flexible standpoint, and always trying to glorify their own truths, and suppress other people’s views. In fact they have behaved like fundamentalistic Christians.
I don't think that this is only a Swedish problem. If you only take a look at some of the discussion pages on Internet, you will see my point. Of course we will have different opinions, but that is something to accept and learn from. It must be an end to all single-mindedness. If we never achieve this, we will never influence the world again.
Lavrans Reimer-Møller recently visited Sweden, and met a man called Mikael Hedlund. He is one of the people that has been revitalizing the pagan movement in Sweden. He is a man of several traditions. One of them is the Forn sed. He is very typical, because he is not a member in Sveriges Asatrosamfund. He still has some connection to us, since he has, from his own perspective and his own initiative, answered a lot of questions on our home-page discussion site. He has talked about joining us. He has 20 years of working experience with Forn sed and sejd. And there are several like him around in Sweden. They are in to their fifties, and they are doing fine on their own, as they have for a long time. They don't need us.For me the point is very clear. We must not only revitalize ceremonies like the "blot". We must also have a level of "spiritual insight" that is not from book reading or quoting passages in the Eddas, or telling someone's academic view; but from a living personal experience. If we get that, people will come to us.
Some people can say that the "Forn sed" of the old days was not a spiritual path. Yes, that is probably right, in a strict academic sense. But in practical terms, it contained a lot of spiritual insight and experience that was a part of the religion. That was the strength of the brew, really. If the modern way of doing the same thing, especially when we don't have a full working tradition, is to go deeper in traditional spirituality as sejd, utesittning, kura skymning (twilight sitting), kulning and galdersong, work with the Havamal for a better personal life, and even shamanism, then that is the way we have to take.
Chairman of Sveriges Asatrosamfund.