by D Jason Cooper
Marklander is notable for its concern with organization. Whether to follow the
Scandinavian or the Icelandic model, whether oath, kinship, tribalism, or looser joining is ideal. I want here to turn that concern on its head - at least for the length of the article. Instead of looking at the organizational structure, I’m going to try to look at it the outside whose attention we’re trying to attract.
Naturally, some people come to a tradition fully prepared for it. It is the case that for the Ásatrú, like Wicca, the Golden Dawn tradition, Hellenic, and other like traditions, a long period of reading often precedes joining up. This prepares the new member, but it slows the membership growth.
What would attract the attention of a person who is not yet well-read in the Ásatrú tradition? In other words, what is the easily grasped doorway by which they can enter? In other words, what kind of icon have the Ásatrú got? Remember here were looking at image, not target. Take a simple set of examples.
The Marlboro man sells cigarettes, but not to cowboys (they all got cancer and died). The fact he is used shows the image, not the target. In the same way, the Undertaker did not appeal exclusively to Satanists, while people not old enough to drink beer and didn’t have jobs so they had no boss to kick around still liked Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Such images are not limited to individuals. Wicca in South Australia took a single and consistent line. They represented themselves as liberated, open, and free. In confrontations they consistently painted the Christian Church as repressed. It worked, since according to census figures they got a six-fold increase in numbers (albeit off a off a low base) between 1995 and 2001. In the same way, Linux consistently presents itself as reliable and stable, as opposed to Windows, which actually has games you want to play.
So what has Ásatrú got as a Stone Cold? I think the figure of the Viking is it. Not the reaver, but the explorer. The kind of person who colonizes Iceland, who tries to colonize Greenland, who discovers America and calls it Markland. This is the figure to show. It was exactly these qualities which NASA alluded to when it named its Mars probes the Viking Landers.
There is a great deal of romantic and practical appeal in the idea of a Viking as the explorer who endures hardship, who struggles against enormous odds, who has to use incredible ingenuity to over come problems. They did what was hard and reaped the rewards before those who could do it easily.
In modern times it relates to people who undergo feats of endurance and discovery whether things can be done. Flying a balloon around the world, flying it solo, being the youngest person to sail solo around the world three times, these are all examples of the Viking spirit in the modern world.
If the Viking is the person, what is the concept? What will parallel the Linux use of stable or the Wiccan use of liberated? The answer may lie in the figure of the Viking. The Ásatrú admire courage, the acceptance of hardship in the name of discovery. Note that many spiritual teachers suggest self-knowledge comes without pain or will liberate us from pain. An admission that self-knowledge comes through effort may make the claim credible to many who have already dismissed various gurus of success without pain or even, it seems, effort.
Before the organization can be, there has to be the people who will fill it. Before there are the people there has to be a reason for them to gather as a group. It is the Viking of exploration which may provide the basis for the gathering.