Norse gods in a crusade for Europe

Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist, called the gun he used to carry out the killings "Mjolner", named after the norse god Thor's hammer. He also claims to be an "Odinist". According to theology professor Jone Salomonsen, neopaganism is usually associated with New Age spirituality and the left wing, but right-wing extremists also draw on pre-Christian religion to build alternative power.
The god Odin riding atop Sleipner is depicted on a Norse petroglyph from Gotland. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Anders Behring Breivik, charged with the bombing and mass shooting in Norway last summer, argued in his manifesto that European Christianity has become weak and feminized as a result of modernism and multiculturalism. He believes Europe is watering down its own cultural traditions and inhereted values, turning the other cheek and thus being invaded and raped by the enemy. In pre-Christian Norse belief – which he calls “Odinism” – he finds an alternative strength and masculine aggression, which can be used to defend Europe’s honour and supreme identity. As a result, he calls for a strategic union of Christianity and paganism in order to mobilize Europeans for battle.

“The killer is not a believer himself. Instead, both Christianity and paganism are a matter of identify for him. And he emphasizes that ‘Odinism’ is not the answer to like-minded people in the Balkans, for example. He encourages them to draw on their own local forms of paganism instead. In his universe, Christianity is a symbol for a strong Europe while local pagan traditions symbolize strong local identities.”

Right-wing paganism 

Jone Salomonsen, a professor of theology, made these comments in her keynote presentation at a seminar under the auspices of the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen. According to Salomonsen, Breivik and his manifesto illustrate the significance of recontructed paganism for the ultra-reactionary right wing.

“Breivik is not the only right-wing radical with these ideas,” says Salomonsen. She refers to the radical right-wing journal Telos, which has argued that the “spirit” of Christianity must be incorporated with the “spirit” of old paganism to preserve and create a European cultural heritage, based on the example of Charlemagne, in order to accelerate the rise of radical European nationalism.

Jone Salomonsen. (Photo: Kristin Engh Førde)

“Like-minded groups have distanced themselves from Breivik’s actions, not because they believe his convictions are morally reprehensible but because his acts there and then were dishonourable’, ‘distasteful’ and counterproductive to the larger cause. There is no disagreement about the ideas underlying the mass murders, which are that Europe is in the midst of a civil war between good and evil and that the main enemy is Islam, feminism and multiculturalism.”

Hates left-wing paganism 

Neopaganism is a generic term for modern nature religions, which are often claimed to be a reimagined form of pre-Christian religions. The largest and most influential of these is Wicca, which is often referred to as feminist and which has strong ties to various left-wing protest movements. Breivik and his kind have little patience for this form of paganism, and distinguishes themsleves as reconstructing the old pagan traditions while Wicca merely invents neopaganism.

“In his manifesto, Breivik identifies Starhawk, a leader of the radical left-wing pagan Wicca tradition in the USA, as one of his enemies. She is a feminist and non-violence activist, and currently one of the leaders of the Occupy Movement, which has grown rapidly in the U.S. in the past half year. She could hardly be further from Breivik politically. So although they both call themselves pagans, this doesn’t mean they have similar projects, rather the opposite,” Salomonsen concludes.

Translated by Connie Stultz.

The researcher

Jone Salomonsen is a professor at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo.

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