American Culture and Reconstruction

But I am coming to see that contemporary America is very, very strange in one respect. It just may be the first society in which it is a major reflexive dogma that there must be no dogmas. Think about it. There’s always another way of looking at things’ is a basic assumption of a great many Americans. (David Brin, The Dogma of Otherness)


I’m not white. I’m beige with brown freckles.

Ethnically I am Scots-Irish, German, French, Norwegian, English and if I take my mother’s word for truth,Hunkpapa or Sihasapa Lakota and African.

Regionally, I am a woman from Montana, a mountainous and sparsely populated state in the northwestern part of the  United States of America.

Individually, I am a mother, a priestess, a journalist, a teller of tales and lover of history.

All of these facets of me affect my beliefs and practice as a Northern Tradition practitioner.

I look at orlog and wyrd as something I build. The idea that it is  even partially dependent on my ancestors is frankly a frightening one. The ancestors I know of were not the kind of people I want to emulate(there are a couple of exceptions). But as an American, I don’t know most of my ancestors. Like most people I know, I can reliably trace back to my great-great grandparents. Beyond that, it’s blank.

Every culture is built on a series of values that define how the people in that culture relate to one another for the survival and health of the culture. And despite what many reconstructionists or people guilty of cultural appropriation say, “white” Americans have a culture. It has flaws, like any other culture. But it shapes our worldview, that deep, unconscious framework where we fit everything we learn. And the American worldview is radically different than ancient and medieval Northern Europeans.

Americans believe that the values and rights of the individual are more important than the family or the region or the nation-state. In analyzing our Constitution, the Bill of Rights is all about rights of the individual.

Americans believe in self improvement through education and experience. Since the majority of the early settlers were Protestant, they believed that they had a responsibility  to be the best they could be and to develop their talents.

Americans believe in self-reliant individualism. Because of our pioneer history, we have been forced to be self-sufficient, creative and optimistic about the future.

Americans believe in equality of opportunity, we believe that the chances for success are fair and that a person does not succeed just because he or she was born into wealth, power or privilege.  Despite whether or not you believe it actually happens in reality, Americans believe that if they work hard enough, they can be Donald Trump. It’s hard work, and competitive, but if our immigrant ancestors could come here and succeed, so can we.

Americans believe in privacy. From the anonymous ballot to small talk to privacy laws to protect against your information being used to the right to choose, the ability to control what people see about you is very important to Americans.

Americans believe in social justice. Between Christianity and the various progressive movements in American history, as well as the American belief in equality of opportunity, Americans believe in correcting injustice.

Please don’t think I’m glossing over the dark side of American values. Because there is a painful shadow that lives at the base of all American values.  All of this values have excesses that can harm individuals and American society. But excess is part of American culture too. Look at Disneyland. Or Super Size Me.

These values change how we look at the gods, heroes and lore of ancient and medieval Northern Europe.

We as Americans are  individuals. If you read the sagas, you will note, if your translation is unabridged, that there is a paragraph at least of how each person is related to others. In Iceland, people have been living in the same place for 1000 years. Who you are related to is part of your reputation.

In America, we are a mobile people. Our reputation is individual and what we make of it.

Americans are optimistic. Based on the sagas and Eddas, the ancient Norse were pessimistic.

Asatru reconstructionists would have you believe that you can understand the worldview of our Northern European ancestors and see things as they saw things, to use as a foundation on which to build a way of life.

Reconstruction can not be achieved.

I can learn all the sagas and Eddas backwards and forwards. I can recreate the cultural hallmarks of dress, food, ritual, architecture, language. I can memorize every law in the Gragas. I can go to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Germany and live in that culture for years.

I will still filter everything through my American worldview, my culture, my place in time.

I’m not saying reconstruction is pointless. It is a very important part of getting to know the gods, wights and ancestors that make up our spiritual neighbors and allies. But it’s not the only part.

There is always another way of looking at things.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

This entry was posted in Essays and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to American Culture and Reconstruction

  1. Snaegl says:

    Great post, I couldn’t agree more. You did a wonderful job at teasing out many of the values to which we become blind after living within them for so long. Indeed, reconstruction has a lot of value, but if practiced without inspiration, it simply rings hollow to me.

  2. Meirya says:

    It’s good to see writing on this subject! First Lupa’s posts on Therioshamanism, now this. I couldn’t agree more about your statements regarding reconstructionism.

    I feel hard reconstruction often becomes little more than re-enactment: dressing up and going through the motions while missing the relevance and soul of the beliefs. I think there’s value in research and in soft reconstruction, don’t get me wrong, but I think there’s a balance that must be found in order to have a *living faith*.

  3. Hrafn says:

    @Meirya Though not quite in the same vein, I think it is also worth pointing out Krasskova’s recent essay as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *