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by Wayland Skallagrimsson
During the great schisming of the heathen community during the 80s and 90s, three distinct traditions were formed: Tribalism, Folkism, and Universalism. These factions formed in response to the question, "Who can be considered a heathen?" Tribalists answered, "Only those who sufficiently make an effort to adopt the culture and beliefs of the ancient heathens." The Folkists answered, "Only those with white European blood, such as ancient heathens had." Universalists answered, "Anyone who says they are." I am a Tribalist. I believe that the ancients were Tribalists. I have argued strongly against Folkism, viewing it as a corruption of true heathenry and a genuine danger to modern heathenry. However, I am just as firmly opposed to Universalism. It also isn't a genuine heathen path.
There has to be a higher standard than the Universalist one. The Universalist standard of "Anyone who says they are," leads to beliefs that are directly contradictory to ancient heathen beliefs. Consider the Theosophists, for instance. They believe, in a way, that all religions are true. They have a key for interpreting ancient myths according to the beliefs of the "true parent religion." According to the founder of Theosophy, the Odinic philosophy is pacifistic in nature, and the einherjar are spirits who have evolved beyond war or conflict. This is clearly as anti-Odinic as you can get. Yet, according to Universalism, this is a heathen belief.
Wiccans believe that all gods and goddesses are really one deity wearing different masks. This is also a non-heathen belief. The differences between the gods are important to the ancient stories. Yet according to Universalism, Norse-flavored Wiccans are genuinely heathen. There are a number of people who claim that the ancient gods were really aliens, like in Stargate. Universalism holds that this too is a heathen belief.
If our standards are going to be that loose, we might just as well say that Christians are heathen. We might as well say that atheists are. We might as well not use the term "heathen" at all, because it will have no meaning. Clearly we must be more selective than the Universalists are.
It has been many years since I put the section on factions in Asatru on my website. It has taken me a long time to get around to speaking out against Universalism, as I concentrated on Folkism first. This is because I find Universalism to be less of a threat to heathenry as a whole. Folkism does some serious harm to the community. Universalism is merely silly. It is not much of a threat to heathenry. Universalists are not that likely to ever get involved in heathen events, or post to heathen forums. Instead, they usually hang out with the Wiccans or the New Agers, who they share more affinity with. They are often prone to simply getting high and forgetting about actually doing anything. However, all newcomers to the heathen path should be aware that many resources are not written by real heathens but instead New Age-flavored Universalists. Be critical about any modern writing until you have checked it against ancient, primary sources.