As a blog, we have focused on profiling some smaller and emerging neofolk bands in an effort to draw out the DIY elements of a grassroots scene. The perception that many have of neofolk is that all the major bands are held tightly by the far-right, examples being Blood + Sun or Death in June, but there is a whole universe of major neofolk bands who have taken a public stand against white nationalism. This is particularly true outside of the narrow English language post-punk bands that dominate much of the music press coverage. Many of the bands who drive their inspiration directly from the folk music run against this fascist interpretation, including the heathen bands of the Northern Tradition.
Wardruna is the best known of these, with their notoriety resulting from the path they have charted in taking back Nordic heritage and history from those who have attempted to racialize that history. Wardruna, which is primarily the project of musician and Nordic pagan historian Einar Selvik, has become a central figure in this trend for bringing a certain historical accuracy to portrayals of Viking Age art and music. This is what led Wardruna to the soundtrack for the History Channel show Vikings, which brought Selvik a lot of attention.
The sound itself is subcategorized as Nordic folk as it focuses heavily on heathenry, the pagan tradition that honors the Aesir and Venir and the traditions of the Nordic people’s in what is now Scandinavia. Their music drives directly from the myths and sagas, with a massive range of instrumentation that pulls from the diverse cultural span that made up the Viking Age.
When people hear terms like Nordic heritage and Viking music there is a certain unease that appears because of the way that fascists have appropriated that culture, a process that goes back almost 200 years into the early volkisch movements of 19th Century Germany. Using pseudoscienifitic and mystical ideas, they created the idea that Germanic Gods were part of the spiritual psyche of people of Germanic ethnic heritage, and that those archetypes define them as people. This rejects the actual history of heathenry, which was diverse, multiracial, and had influences from global cultural exchange.
This is a part of why Selvik has made Wardruna heavily indebted to historical accuracy and openly professes the intent of the project. White nationalism has nothing to do with the rediscovery of paganism, and uses a false modern construct to employ ancient folkways as an excuse for fascist revolution. As Selvik says:
This project takes inspiration from our native culture but it is about creating something current and new. It is also important for me to dispel a few myths about the Runes and Norse culture that have been misinterpreted and made almost cartoonish by the media.The image of the Runes has been tarnished by some right-wing racist idiots who have no business using them and only did so for their own gain.
This reconstruction of paganism is also in opposition to Christianity, seeing it as an imperialist religion that wipes away indigenous cultures through domination. This is, again, a fact that has often drawn in elements of the far-right that share an anti-Christian stance. It is also what drew in the black metal element, and something that Selvik has in common with early Wardruna member Gaahl of the early Norwegian Black Metal band Gorgoroth.
The serious focus to pagan histories, so much so that Selvik gives lectures on pagan history and sells books on heathen rituals and spirituality on the Wardruna website, is also what creates the unique multicultural understanding the band brings to the music. For Selvik, it is the diversity of pagan practice that actually unites humanity.
I’m generally interested in culture, whether it’s slavic, siberian or african. What’s fascinating, if you go back in time far enough, you’re going to see all these similarities, how we are connected. Of course, in my work, in early work with Wardruna, because the history is very fragmented, it’s only natural to look into other neighbouring cultures for inspiration and also clues.
Instead, it is allegiance to the ideas and passion for the tradition that binds a community together, not a false notion of race.
I prefer to sow seeds and let them grow, and this little weed then enters the shade of the new shoots. It is very convenient to live far from the origin of a tradition, claiming it for yourself and focusing on ethnicities rather than nature. At the same time, nature has shaped culture. I would much rather be a blót with a Spanish person who gets it than with a Norwegian who does not get it. If you are stupid, you are stupid. It does not matter if you’re descended from any Viking king.
The increased focus on Nordic history and culture, which Selvik has been a big part of, has helped to create a barrier to stop the far-right from being able to continue appropriating it without a counter-narrative.
It is a very positive effect, that increased interest does not allow the subculture on the extreme right wing to use our history in peace. We have somehow taken our own story back.
“It is difficult to take them seriously, and it testifies to great lack of knowledge when right-wing extremist groups have used our cultural heritage in their propaganda,” says Selvik, pointing out that the far-right lacks a clear understanding of Nordic paganism and instead uses it simply as an aesthetic rather than a true spiritual path.
Gaahl had been a part of the project since its founding, which many saw as problematic given that he often made up the more offensive side of black metal and was involved in far-right gangs in his youth. He has since repudiated those politics and publicly rejected them, and spoke out about what it is like to be an open gay man in the black metal scene, but we were still not comfortable with his involvement in Wardruna. In 2015 he left the band entirely and has not had any more relationship to it, a move that we support. We would not have included Wadruna if Gaahl was still in the band, and we think it is important to outline this history.
Going forward, Wardruna is continuing to be a massive project, one of Selvik’s many music endeavors, and will set the tone for much of how this more traditional sound comes together in neofolk. It is his public declarations of the intention of the music that is important because it forces the community away from an apolitical stance. While Wardruna is not political on contemporary issues, it is much more focused on songs about Thor and sailing, they use the moments they have to make it clear that they are taking a stand against the fascist creep into this cultural landscape.
We are putting a few of our favorite songs by Wardruna from their Bandcamp below, and just added a few Wardruna tracks to our Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist!
24 thoughts on “Wardruna is Taking Back Nordic Pagan Culture and Music from the Far-Right”
I think you’re projecting a little here. He’s right to claim that the far right are often ignorant about the history and use of runic symbols, but to believe Wardruna is actively participating in some kind of fight against fascism is merely “adopting” them for your own purposes, much in the same way you accuse the far right of adopting certain other bands. The misappropriation of runes by moronic racialist/whatever groups is no different than some suburban American “witch” making little rune pendants to sell on Etsy or, for that matter, the logo of this very blog on Facebook using runes to phonetically spell out its name.
Additionally, the paragraph about Gaahl and the use of the word “problematic” was hilariously predictable. So what if you’re “not comfortable” with his participation in Wardruna? Does this mean you refuse to listen to the first two albums on which he performs? How much contrition does he have to show for his past before he’s redeemed himself in your sanctimonious eyes? Selvik has openly said he’s quite happy to work with Gaahl again when the time is right, so maybe when that happens you’ll be forced to remove this blog post huh?
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So I want to clarify something, I am not holding an objection to Gaahl because of the history in his youth. A lot of people make terrible choices and then leave them behind and speak out against them. What I object to, which unfortunately did get cut from the story, is that he tends to be a fence sitter when it comes to far-right bands. He generally thinks that people of all political persuasions should be welcome in the scene and he thinks it is puritanical to object to the far-right being involved. So, he doesn’t share their views, but he doesn’t reject them either. Which, by its very nature, makes him a bad fit for an antifascist neofolk blog.
It’s about time to take back the Nordic pagan culture and music from the Far-Right!
Especially now, with the rise of facism that we can see a bit everywhere.
According to me, those Nazis can go and fuck themselves !
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M.W., Your criticism is really a stretch, and that it is seething in fury is worn right on the sleeve of your shirt. So I wonder, why did this make you so increadibly angry?
Let’s put aside the false equivalency for a moment.
The post doesn’t state that Wardruna is openly anti-fascist, but it conducts an analysis of their work and motivations to demonstrate that it does, in fact, undermine far right consolidation and appropriation of corrupted, abused historic symbols and takes them back into the hands of the Pagan and Heathen communities, which aligns their work with the core anti-fascist movements in the Pagan and Heathen communities. Wardruna has been a centerpiece of Pagan music and an inspiration for many. They are openly inter-cultural which makes their music automatically conflict with far-right agendas of nationalism. Their work in restoring the Futhark is tremendous. They are participating in the reclaimation of Pagan and Heathen symbols for their appropriate use and function. That is a fact.
I think the idea that people cannot redeem themselves from far right thought and gangs is silly, BUT no one is ever wrong for holding skepticism of an individual for their actions. It stands to a Heathen’s sense of honor that you cannot wash off the past with some soap and water. Anything an individual has done must be carried with them and recognized throughout their life. Likewise, someone who was a part of a hate group might have actually changed their ways, but they can never removed the mark of it on their character. Not without a ton of time and effort can they demonstrate that their character has expanded beyond their failures of virtue. This isn’t Christianity. You don’t get to go into a box and confess away all your “sins” as if they didn’t happen.
It is high and mighty of you to think you can judge another person’s sense of trust and honor when looking at someone else’s actions. Each individual has their own sense of what is enough to earn trust again. If the author of the article does not feel the individual has done enough to warrent renewed trust in their attitudes and beliefs, then that is the author’s perogative, not yours.
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If you thought my response contained any “anger” or “fury” then perhaps you need to work on reading comprehension. I think “cringe” is a better way to describe my reaction to this blog post.
I don’t see where the false equivalency is, particularly when I’m talking strictly about the misappropriation and cheapening of runes for all sorts of political, commercial, or half-baked cultural purposes, like the ones I listed in my earlier comment. I also don’t need a lecture on the cross-cultural appeal of Wardruna – I’ve seen them live a number of times and have participated in workshops with Selvik, even though I’m not a white nor Nordic person.
More generally speaking, you can hold all the skepticism you want over people’s past actions, but the sort of antifa witch-hunt idiocy I see amongst underground music takes an absolute form. For example, this blog has lumped in Sol Invictus in the “problematic” column, even though Tony Wakeford admits the idiocy of his involvement in the BNF three decades ago – yet he’ll never be moved into the “acceptable” column. But frankly, I doubt he cares, nor do the majority of people who support the broader neofolk scene.
I also note that some of my questions remain unanswered by both you and the blog – is it acceptable for you to listen to the Wardruna albums featuring Gaahl, and should this post be taken down if he and Selvik collaborate again?
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Long ago, i decided i would not participate in the divide and conquer strategy that it constantly thrust upon us. I love this music. Music has always been a place where what you look like does not matter, only your humanity.
M.W. Yes actually, you betrayed irritation and anger. I apologize for prodding you, however. It’s honestly fine.
My statement about false equivalency was in reference to your remark about “adoption” of bands. I was merely observing that Wardruna was not being “adopted” for anything, only being analyzed, and this is quite different from far right m.o. Given Wardruna’s remarks about resisting far right appropriation of Futhark, I don’t even think “adoption” is even an applicable concept. Vindicating these symbols and their spiritual function is important. That is all Wardruna is doing, and is really what the article expresses. I mean, they do it very explicitly and perhaps even a bit heavy-handedly with their rune poem songs, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The usage of Futhark by both far right and hate groups as well as in vacuous consume culture is a grave disrespect to them.
Concerning Gaahl, I was merely stating that everyone, including the article’s author has their own levels of trust, and that is their business. I have a friend who was in skinhead gangs in his youth. He turned his back on hatred, recognized that he was preyed upon as a victim and became a deeply spiritual individual. But he is indeed marked for life by it. Being marked in such a way is a permanent obligation to analyze and know what one’s actions were and to understand why they were wrong. It is virtuous to be able to admit that, especially publicly, but just doing that doesn’t mean that you are entitled to anyone’s trust. It certainly might be the case that a white supremacist has come to renounce their former behavior and views sincerely, but that doesn’t mean they are entitled to the trust of those who were their former victims or potential victims. The person who has truly renounced their ways recognizes that they are never entitled to trust but may be fortunate and honored if they are to ever earn it through their future actions. That signifies a collapse of the ego that drove them to hatred in the first place because they now truly respect the views and trust of their Other.
The issue with Gaahl is a deeper philosophical problem concerning how an open society is supposed to respond to authoritarian and supremacist viewpoints, something that a number of theorists, including Karl Popper have written on. There are (at least) two approaches to this: The first is that compassion is necessary in the first place to disarm hatred. The second is that hatred which refuses to disarm through compassion cannot be tolerated. Gaahl, through having lived that past and then renounced it is likely the best candidate to use compassion to disarm supremacist groups he rejected because he can more readily empathize and understand the root causes of supremacist hatred. That is his perogative if that is how he wishes to reconcile his past.
But at the same time, all my friends and family are legitimately threated by the existence of fascist and supremacist groups. I can understand Gaahl’s choice and why he would pursue it, but I am not in a position concerning the interests and well-being of myself, my friends and my family to tolerate the presence of far right ideology in the music community to which I belong.
It’s not about whether I would or wouldn’t listen to Waradruna. Not listening to anything just because of its political association is uncritical. A critical mind is able to understand positions it disagrees with and/or opposes and analyze them thoroughly. I disagree with Gaahl’s methods and wishy-washy positions as a matter of personal context and lived experience, not as a matter of digesting and understanding the reasoning and perspectives behind people’s choices. Your original question is a leading one because whether I choose to listen to something I disagree with is not an indication of expressing a moral imperative. That would be a Kantian deontological analytic, which would be very Christian, in turn. I am an aretic ethicist. I adhere to what I find to be virtuous character.
I am not involved in A Blaze Ansuz, just a third party. Their decision is, of course, their own. If my opinion in this were to matter (which it certainly does not), I personally wouldn’t take the article down even if Gaahl were to collaborate again. It is not hypocritical to refuse to cover up past perspectives and positions. I also would also go on to make a more indepth analysis of what is problematic about Gaahl’s current views and approach.