from THE RUNESTONE fall 1995
by Steven McNallen
On the long drive from California to Wisconsin, I wondered what it would be like to once again attend an Althing. It had been a long time since I had last stood around the fire with Asatruar from around the country. My first Althing was – Althing 1! My last such gathering was in Texas for Althing 6. This was Althing 15…
We had packed the car carefully. plastered an “Odin Lives!” bumper sticker on the back, and pointed the car eastward. Most of the trip was uneventful, but there was one startling exception. In the middle of Wyoming, we got a sign from the Gods – or if not a sign, at least a bumper sticker! Let me explain.
We had dodged the rain for hundreds of miles, but in Laramie, Wyoming, it caught up with us. As drops of water splashed against the windshield, we thought of the bags strapped to the top of the car and knew that we had to put them inside, or they’d get soaked in the imminent downpour. So we turned off the freeway and into a gas station, where I unhooked the bungee cords and tossed our belongings – which were getting wetter by the second – into the car.
As I finished the task and slid into my seat, my eyes caught an “Odin Lives!” bumper sticker on a vehicle about 50 feet in front of us! I was momentarily confused – was I in the right car? If so, how did our bumper sticker get on that OTHER car? It took several heartbeats to really understand that we were sitting a few yards away from other Althing-bound souls. I hurriedly has Sheila pull up to the curb in front of our fellow Asafolk, and I got out of the car. The man in the passenger seat was pointing at OUR bumper sticker and talking excitedly to his companions!
After introductions, we had dinner with Ragnar, Kveldulf, and Hildulf. They escorted us to the motel where we were staying that night, and continued on their way. Our amazement at the meeting, and the sense of “rightness” conveyed by such an unlikely twist of ORLOG, stayed with us for the rest of our journey.
Two days later, we parked our car at the ferry which would take us across to rock Island, on the very tip of Wisconsin’s peninsula. Coincidentally, Valgard Murray, Bob and Karen Taylor, and a boatload of other Asafolk were on the same shuttle. It was a time of renewed friendships, to say the least!
Someone we hadn’t met before was our guest from the Odinic Rite, in England. Heimgest was witty, a good conversationalist, and was amazed at the freedom with which Asatruar are allowed to assemble and worship in this country. If I understood him right, there are all sorts of bureaucratic restrictions on what they can and can’t do in England – they can’t meet outdoors, for example, he certainly seemed to be enjoying Vinland’s freedom and we hope he had a great experience here.
The site for the Althing couldn’t have been better selected. Islands had religious significance for our ancestors; they were chosen for duels, and were cult sites for some deities. Rock Island, itself off the tip of Washington Island, is wooded and wonderful. One of the things that makes it unique is a structure built by an Icelander named Thordarson. He was very aware of his heritage, and expressed his pride by building a sort of viking hall out of native stone. I’ve included a sketch of it with this article, but the crude drawing can’t convey it’s magnificence. There is an immense fireplace, above which is carved an inscription in runes. The main room – perhaps thirty feet wide and sixty feet long – is graced by lovely but unViking-like windows which fill the room with sunlight; at night, the hall is lit by a unique chandelier in which honrs, made to resemble the drinking horns of old, hold candles.
But even more interesting than the building itself is the furniture which fills it. Carved wooden chairs and tables depict scenes from our old lore – Tyr binding Fenris, Skathi on her skis, Thor riding on his chariot, and maybe fifteen or twenty more. Thordarson’s personal desk is also part of the collection. Four dwarves support it’s corners, and other Norse motifs decorate it’s panels. Truly, Thordarson has left a great treasure for posterity.
What was accomplished at the Althing?Five new kindreds were accepted into the Asatru Alliance, including our own Calasa Kindred. Obviously, we made new friends, and we renewed bonds with old ones. It was good to see Valgard again, and Bob and Karen, and the others from the old days. Beyond that, our attendance showed that the Asatru Folk Assembly and the Asatru Alliance are not in competition with each other and that we have, in fact, formed stronger ties of friendship and cooperation. Needless to say, we came away full of energy and ideas; a yellow pad crammed with notes was never far from us during the return trip.
One particular thought kept surfacing again and again these three days – in sumble, at meals, during rituals, in the course of countless conversations – and it is this: We of Asatru share an amazingly rich culture. I don’t mean just our ancient culture, but even more the habits and customs that have grown deeper, more intricate, and more detailed with each passing year of the Reawakening. From the way we lift a horn, to the gestures with which we bless meals, and the greetings we call to each other across a meadow of tents, we are a people bound to each other.
And that is wonderfully precious.