Tacitus wrote of the ancient Germans, “they think it proper neither to confine their gods within walls nor to give them any likeness of human appearance: they consecrate groves and glades and call by the names of gods that intangible quality they see with the eye of reverence alone.”
And yet we know that in the eleventh century an impressive temple dedicated to the gods still stood in Sweden, in what is now known as Old Uppsala (Gamla Uppsala). According to Adam of Bremen (born ca. 1050), a gold chain surrounded the temple, hanging from its gables. Near the temple, Adam tells us, was an immense evergreen tree, and a spring at which sacrifices were made. (Indeed, his report is filled with grisly details of what he alleges to be immense numbers of both animals and humans sacrificed at the temple.)
Each of us — and here my audience really is Asatruar in North America — is like NewGrange Hall itself: modern and American. And austere, in the sense that among other things we are united in wanting to strip from ourselves most of the refinements, pretensions, and preoccupations of the “average man.” As Asatru assumes its latest shape within this modern American structure, so it takes shape within our modern American selves. There is a continuity here. But what comes to be in NewGrange Hall and in ourselves will be unique to our time and place, and impossible to predict.
Now, as for those of my readers who have no interest in Asatru, why should they care about NewGrange Hall? As I have argued elsewhere (most recently in my review of Steve McNallen’s Asatru: A Native European Spirituality) a religion is the expression of the spirit of a people. It expresses what a people values, what it hates and fears, what it strives for, and how it sees itself. Thus, religion is a way in which a people confronts itself, or becomes conscious of itself.
Asatru is an expression of the spirit of Northern European people. Or, to put the point much more strongly, Asatru just is the spirit of Northern European people, given expression in the form of myth, imagery, custom, and ceremony. And through Asatru we are brought back into touch with who we are — with our ideals, our history, and the way of being and relating to life and existence that is most natural to us. Thus, the larger significance of NewGrange Hall is that it is a place for our people to come together and come to awareness of who they are. Right now, there is no other place in the world solely devoted to this purpose. That makes NewGrange Hall not just a special place — but one that can only be seen as sacred, if its purpose is fully appreciated.
This is a major event, therefore, for all of us — Asatruar, and those who do not yet realize that they are Asatruar. Ultimately, this is not a matter of choice for us, as we are all the children of Odin. I can no more choose not to “follow Asatru” than I can choose to have different parents. But this is a matter that demands a careful argument, one that I will have to make elsewhere.
The AFA owns NewGrange Hall — but it still has to pay for it. And funds are needed for such things as painting, repairing, and decorating the building. Only five days are left in the AFA’s fundraising campaign — and they have not yet reached the goal of $74,800. Even if you can only spare a modest sum, please donate.
This is an important chapter in the history of our people. You should be a part of it. (And see the Facebook page here.)
Notes:1. Tacitus’ Agricola, Germany, and Oration on Orators, trans. Herbert W. Benario (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991 ), 67.