Asatru brethren teach openness
John Powell gripped the hammer of Thor in both hands and began the short ceremony, facing north.
“In the name of Thor, god of thunder, I ward this stead against all evil and unholy beings,” said Powell, 53, an ordained ghodi, or priest, of the Asatru religion. “Make it a place of goodness this day.”
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Stepping to each of the four cardinal corners, Powell repeated a version of the prayer.
“By the power of Mjollnir” (pronounced “MILL-ner”) “hammer of Thor, I ward this stead against all evil and unholy ettins, wights, jodins and trolls,” Powell said. “By the power of the god of thunder, I make this place pure.”
Thus began Jan. 31’s “blot” (say “blet”), or blessing, the regular service of a small group of Grant County area residents who practice Asatru, the ancient religion of the Norse. A pagan religion, Asatru is the original pre-Christian religion of the Europeans. The word Asatru means “belief in the gods” in old Norse.
Raised as a Christian, Powell, owner of Natural Gifts & Healing on North Washington Street, has been practicing Asatru for about five years. He leads a small kindred that gathers at his shop once a month for a blot, which includes a short formal ceremony followed by a Hoosier-style feast and quiet conversation.
“An ettin is an elf,” said Powell, an articulate and intelligent man, who is a walking encyclopedia of Norse mythology. “A jotin is a giant. A wight is a ghost, for lack of a better word. A troll is a dwarf.”
On that Sunday, Powell blessed each of the six guests gathered for the blot by dipping a yew branch into a ram’s horn full of homemade ale and sprinkling liquid on each person’s head. He offered a small bowl of food to the gods as a sacrifice, walking outside and saying a blessing before flinging the apple and piece of bread onto the snowy ground.
“All here are welcome. All here may partake of the feast. And all are welcome this day to the feast of the Valkyrie,” Powell said, ending the ceremony after returning to the table inside.
“Well, let’s eat, guys,” he said. “Who wants some mashed potatoes and chicken and noodles?”
“Me!” said Donna Powell, John’s wife, who is also an ordained gydha (“GO-da”), the Norse word for priestess.
“Do you want a plate or a bowl?” John Powell said. “Pass ’em down one at a time. … Do you want the mashed potatoes underneath the noodles or separate?”
Although Christianity is mainstream in the Midwest, Asatru is not unheard of. The Indiana Asatru Council lists more than a dozen kindred Web sites in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. A spokesman at the council couldn’t be reached by telephone.
Powell’s kindred, called the Kololf Cadby of Jarlsfjord Kindred – translated the Dark Wolves of the Warrior Settlement Kindred – isn’t affiliated with the IAC. He has remained independent, he said, because he doesn’t want to restrict membership to those of Scandinavian descent, which some organizations require.
“We are open to people with open minds,” he said, adding that he has not encountered too much discrimination because of his beliefs. “We don’t try to force our beliefs on anyone. We have had a few incidents where, literally, teenagers were told by their grandparents that if they came into our shop, they were going to go to hell.
“There have been times, we are sure, when Christians in the area have come in and checked us out,” Powell said. “They look around, they’re looking for satanic Bibles and skulls. They don’t find them. So they pretty much just leave.”
Although the word “pagan” conjures negative images in many mainstream minds, local adherents of Asatru say the path they follow promotes health and well-being for all. Powell sells a variety of herbs, stones and crystals in the store that he believes have healing powers.
“He made something for me we call leopard balm,” said Donna Powell, who has degenerative arthritis and gets around in a motorized scooter. At the front of the scooter is a royal blue dragon’s head, which John Powell made out of wood, to resemble an ancient Norse long ship.
“It’s made from virgin olive oil and different herbs and spices,” Donna Powell said. “It does everything from calm down muscles that are spasming to helping your sinuses if they’re really congested to opening your lungs if they’re really screwed up.”
“It will stop migraines in a matter of seconds,” John Powell said.
Huntington resident Darin Redding, 34, joined Marion’s kindred about two years ago. Raised in the Salvation Army church, he is now studying to become a godhi.
“The only thing I can really say is it’s what’s inside of you,” said Redding, who is called Ottar by fellow kindred members.
After espousing Asatru, he learned that his great-grandmother had practiced white witchcraft, another pagan religion that focuses on natural healing.
“It has to be part of you,” he said. “When I told my mom, she said, ‘I wondered how long it was going to take you.'”
Initially uncomfortable being open about his religion, Redding now wears a Thor’s hammer pendant on a chain around his neck. Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is usually portrayed as a large, powerful man with a red beard. He carries a hammer, which flashes lightning whenever he throws it.
“I was a little worried about it at work,” Redding said. “There’s a lot of holier-than-thou people where I work. They’re always trying to convert everybody. But I thought, ‘I’m happy with this religion. This is what I want to do. There’s no reason I should hide it.'”
Although most Asatru adherents don’t believe the Norse myths are literally true, adherents believe the gods are spiritual realities and are helpful influences in their daily lives. They communicate with the gods by casting runes, or symbols, through which they believe the gods answer questions.
Powell, a Marion native, said he believes there are plenty of people in the area who practice alternative religions.
“I truly believe that if you could get everyone in Grant County who had nontraditional beliefs together at one time, you could fill Matter Park,” he said, adding that he knows of a number of Christians who have bought crystals in his store.
“There are many people who are curious. Paganism is an open religion. It’s not a religion that says, ‘You do it our way or you’re going to suffer.’ Paganism says, ‘Do what’s right for you.'”