Everyone now bemoans the effect of the Internet on our socialization and sense of community. It is beyond doubt that the penetration of the Internet into every aspect of our lives has changed us as social animals, and that in many ways that change has been for the worse. Ironically, this is best observed on the Internet itself, with its ubiquitous memes; you see the family eating dinner with no conversation and everyone texting, or businessmen and women running into light poles at rush hour. The saddest manifestation of the phenomenon is the growing statistic of death from texting while driving.
On the other hand, I can personally testify that Internet communication can be an incredible blessing for those of us who have interests which are not addressed by the basic communications which up through the twentieth century, served as media. Before the mid-90’s or later, if you wanted to find a group with spiritual interests beyond the most basic dumbed-down Judeo-Christianity or a community interested in physical activity outside the Big Three of group sports (which were, back then, football, basketball and baseball), or maybe golf, you had to wait for the newspapers or the TV to announce it, or the phone book to unilaterally list it, or to randomly run into someone else with a similar interest, usually by word of mouth. Media flowed in one direction, from the few to the many, and you did what they told you to do. And if you were looking for something outside the mainstream, you were likely to wind up in a tidal pool.
For example, I first developed an interest in Eastern religions and Buddhism as a young college student, but as far as I know there were no such organizations in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1976. I don’t know for sure they weren’t there, but that’s kind of the point. I remember weird semi-cults like Eckankar flowing through (and one of my current friends confesses to having fallen in with them for a while, in that same time). When I moved to the Bay Area in 1980 I of course knew about the San Francisco Zen Center, but though I did attend it and later lived a few blocks from it, the fault for not pursuing that was entirely my own considering my lifestyle at the time; but when my interest in Buddhism resurged in 1986, in Albuquerque, although there was in fact a valid Zen Center there at the time, I didn’t find it, and in fact wound up getting with involved with Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai, a strange heretic sect, because they’re the ones (being proselytizers) who responded to my phone call, and staying involved for about two years. Actually, these days I think I learned a lot from them, but it was definitely not what I had been looking for.
The next renaissance of my interest in groups organized around â€śspiritual mattersâ€ť came in 2004, by which time the internet at least provided web pages as a sort of directory for these groups, and I had a few selections for Buddhism even in Nashville, TN. I wound up with the Nashville Zen Center and was active with them for about five years; they still exist in some form. They weren’t exactly what I was looking for, but they were what there was and I was able to find them. When in about 2009 my personal experiences within Zen led me to look for my own spiritual heritage, I was able to go online and locate not only a local Asatru kindred, not realizing at the time what a rare thing and an omen that was, but the Asatru Folk Assembly, founded by Stephen McNallen, the man who brought Asatru to American and one of its founder in the West, generally speaking, and that has made all the difference.
The AFA is centered in California, but has members all over the country, and beyond; I don’t know how many. There are kindreds associated with it, but in keeping with the nature of most of its member, most of the kindreds tend to be their own entities, and membership in the AFA is an individual matter. Please note that in finding it I was able to go through the process of distinguishing between Folkish and Universalist Asatru, the latter being a New Age phenomenon which exists in defiance of the indigenous nature of the movement itself. Because Asatruar are still few and far between compared to the followers of other religions, and partly because its members tend to be individualists, I think the AFA is a prime example of how the internet can work to unite and bind people who are unable to locate or participate in physical communities of their own kind, which is in this age of degenerative individualism, a real godsend. Throughout the years my local kindred basically fell apart, although I am still friends with most of its former members, and my own interest in Asatru waxed and waned as I also pursued other interests (some of them worthwhile, other not), but except for I think one year in there, I always maintained my AFA membership.
But let’s bring this to a recent, concrete, joyful manifestation.
I had spent a lot of the last two years studying Hinduism, both on my own and with the help of some very friendly individuals and teachers at the Sri Ganesha Temple in Nashville (and by negative extension, from one fraud, a guy named Frank Morales who goes by Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya, in Omaha and Austin, but I’ve dealt with him elsewhere). One of the things I came to understand, from the wonderful example of my Hindu friends at the Temple, was that Hinduism is not so much a religion as a culture which because of India’s rich history, includes almost every variety of religion and philosophy also found in what we call the West. But Hinduism is for Hindus, and though I could learn and have learned a lot from my study of Sanskrit and its scriptures, I am not a Hindu and never can be one. And that is part of the beauty of it, and what brought me back to the AFA, and to Ostara in the South last month in Georgia.
Other than a couple of what they call Pub Moots, I had been to only one large AFA gathering, which was what they called the Florida Moot (which took place in Georgia!, also) in 2010. I have strange memories of that event, largely because I came down with some sort of stomach disorder the first full afternoon that involved projectile vomiting, but I did get to meet some very good people, including Stephen McNallen and a couple of others who became friends and who I encountered years later in the least likely, maybe, of circumstances. Riding back through a February ice storm Georgia with my friends Johnny and Jule with a very delicate stomach, will also stick in my mind…
But largely on a whim, feeling a spiritual and metapolitical need to return to my own roots, I signed up for Ostara in the South the weekend of April 1, this year. I was a little apprehensive. I’d met Mr. McNallen twice, once at the aforesaid Florida Moot, and at the Rune Gild Moot in 2011 (another interesting story but best addressed separately). Other than that, I knew Allen and Brad, whom I’d also run into in 2014, and Brad’s wife Gillie, but didn’t plan on seeing anyone else I knew. I was also thrilled and my curiosity peaked by Brad’s mention that Henrik Palmgren from RedIce.TV would be attending.
For those of you not familiar with Red Ice Creations, they are a genuinely alternative media outlet, small but growing and in my considered opinion the best of the lot in terms of quality, consistency, and good-heartedness. I only encountered them, through Henrik on Red Ice Radio, and Lana Lokteff on Radio 3Fourteen, last year, but their podcasts have become frequent listening on my long daily commute. Red Ice started, as I understand it, as a sort of general metaphysical inquiry over the internet in 2003 or so; the podcast celebrated its tenth anniversary last month. Over the years, Henrik has basically moved from topics dominated by Alex Jone and David Icke to the current threats posed to Europeans by the New World Order and specifically the invasion of Europe. I knew Henrik was an Asatruar from various statements he’s made, though he doesn’t really emphasize it. As a big fan of Red Ice, I was quite happy to find he was attending this event to which I’d already committed, and also thrilled to find out at the last minute that Lana was also going to be there.
I’m just going to say it: I’ve attended quite a few supposedly spiritual gatherings over the years, and I haven’t really seen anyone report on this one, so maybe I’m the only one with this impression; but in my mind, this was the best. In the six years since I’d attended an AFA event, it really seemed to me that the focus, the tone and the mood of the group had changed in a way that made being there seem much more important. Maybe it’s the times. In 2010 it was true that there was an assertion of cultural and genetic identity being made through the AFA, and I don’t think Steve McNallen has ever deviated from that purpose. But there were also a lot of people playing Viking. Which is fine, if that’s what you want to do, but it’s not much of a basis for long-lasting identity or of belonging to a community that’s likely to survive the hard times that are surely coming. This year, last month, for the first time ever, I perceived that I was in the company of like-minded individuals, who shared a serious sense of purpose, together with the joy of coming together. It was the culmination of an identity that doubtless for a lot of us was forged on the Internet but which flowed seamlessly into real life.
When one is having a spiritual experience, especially a group one, words often fail. There were several such powerful experiences in that weekend, especially a session of Rune Galdr on Friday evening, and Alsherjargothi McNallen’s Wotan Blot on Saturday. But mostly it was the conversations that weekend and the people I met, that will stick in my mind. I won’t list any more names here, because some might wish to remain anonymous, but I met a new friend with some amazing perceptions and ran into an old one, another Rune Gild veteran. I wonder what he thought of that gathering, with his social views which were distinct. But I have never in my life had such a powerful feeling of being for once where I belonged, with people who thought and felt as I do. Indeed I hated to leave.
So I’m going to try to stay in touch with those people, to try to remain active in the AFA â€“ although Mr. McNallen shortly after announced his shifting to a sort of emeritus position within it, it will always be his, but I trust the new leaders have been handed a very viable proposition. And I hope to do some writing for Red Ice, but we shall see â€“ they are very busy. But regardless, it was an experience that assured me I am on the right path, at least in some ways.
But I must say, I think my point is this: the Internet can work as a tool to bring us together, we who might find each other, otherwise. Indeed, there are â€śgroupsâ€ť of which I am a member, with which I feel a great kinship, although we may never meet in person. And it may be true that my bonds with some are indeed beyond time, space, and this demiurgic incarnation, and not dependent on shaking hands in the material world. But I can’t help thinking that we approach a time in our lives and in our history when the Internet will be gone, the cell phones won’t work, and the associations we have formed in our virtual lives and with our virtual identities will be gone â€“ Poof! And our chances for survival, for community, and with them any hope we have of an existence with meaning, are going to depend on the people we can reach by car, or on foot or otherwise, who will take us in and feed us and fight with and for us, and with whom we can form real communities, the kind our parents and grandparents, and we ourselves before the world’s current cybernetic, would have recognized.
Any Murray Feinstein can get on the Internet and call himself Ragnar Olafsson and play Viking. Any fat semi-male degenerate can call himself a woman in the virtual world. But many of the societal problems we are seeing for the first time come from a great Confusion people are experiencing, a real inability to distinguish fact from fantasy. Transhumanism, transgenderism â€“ it will all be gone when we are back in our bodies, as we surely soon shall be.
Of course we all have, or hope we have, people we think we know who would be there for us in extreme times. But how well do we really know them? Those of us who have lived through time of crisis, know that in fact it takes those hard times to separate wheat from chaff. Some will stand with us, and some will run, and the distinction is not always predictable.
And that is where I feel I could count on Stephen and Allen and Brad and Gillie, and Jim and Henrik and Lana and Geoff and others. I could be wrong, and doubtless in some instances I would be. But at least with a real world community there is a chance. Without it, there is none.
Featured image is my photo of Stephen McNallen and Henrik Palmgren at the event. Â Just for fun, here’s Lana with a newborn chick.