The Asatru Kindred
By Valgard Murray
The Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines Kindred as: A group of related individuals; Of a similar nature and character; Of the same ancestry. I would agree with that definition, but it is only partly true. The Asatru Kindred is the foundation for the new Asatru Nation, and as such, is the testing ground for the new tribes of our Folk. In the near future, the Kindred will prove to be the living entity that will survive the onslaught of Ragnarok.
In ancient times, our people survived as an extended family. As populations grew, these extended families joined together to form tribes. This tribe was, in essence, a group of extended families. Over the years they developed their own unique traits, value systems, heritage, traditions, religion, and other vital characteristics. As time wore on, and the people grew larger in numbers, these tribes joined with others of similar character and formed Nations. Again, this method served the people for many years.
During the late Viking Age, and with the coming of Christianity, things changed. The Christian Church was only able to assert its authority over the people by either bribing certain leaders of the Nations with promises of unlimited power and authority with the promise of Kingship, or they obtained the same ends with the use of force and treachery. So, one by one, the Nations submitted to absolute control of the Church through the clever manipulation of Kings.
To further assert this absolute control over the people, countries were formed. These were nothing more than geographical areas defined by lines on a map. They were, in effect, the geographical areas where the new Kings could wield absolute control. Any farther than that was claimed by a neighboring Kingdom. Over time, this led to the formation of towns and cities of such size that large numbers of people were needed just to serve the infrastructure of the Kingdoms. People left the ancestral farmlands to live in the cities and serve the Kings and their armies. Once the Folk lost their natural bond with the land, they lost their souls, and the power and influence of the Kings and the Church was absolute.
The ties which bound the tribes together common ancestry, religion, heritage and social structures were meaningless in the towns and cities. All that mattered is that you swore allegiance to the King and the country which he led. It goes without saying, that the great fratricidal wars of Europe and America could not have been fought without this artificial form of political control wielded by the Church and State.
Today, as Asatru asserts itself, we must learn from the lessons of the past. And to regain our freedoms, we must work hard to rebuild our ancestral tribes. The Kindred is vital to our success and survival as an indigenous people.
Sadly enough, although Asatru at this time is experiencing tremendous growth, many who return to their ancestral religion don't wish to join or found Kindreds. They prefer to worship the Holy Aesir and Vanir alone, or occasionally with a few others of like mind. They do not want to be bothered with commitments, or they do not want anyone depending on them, or they just do not have time for working with others. This article is not for them. This article is for those who are endowed with the spirit of Tyr and are willing to devote their lives to building the Nation of Asatru and serving the Folk. Sacrifice is what makes you an Asatruar, not convenience. If you are willing to devote your life and all that that entails to this sacred cause, then read on.
The History of Asatru Kindreds in Vinland
The first Kindreds were formed in Vinland in the early 70's. The Asatru Free Assembly strived to found Kindreds at this time, and while the Odinist Fellowship did not, members of the Fellowship formed Kindreds all the same. There were also a few independent Kindreds that were already in existence at this time and some of them later joined both the AFA and the OF. When both of these pioneering groups disbanded, it was the Kindreds of these former groups that vowed to learn from the lessons of the past and form the Asatru Alliance. The number one lesson to be learned is that national organizations are certainly necessary and do much to promote the growth of our religion, but they are subject to failure and disbandment. All the while, the Kindreds survive!
Of the many Kindreds that were formed in the late 60's and 70's only two survive: Arizona Kindred and Wulfing Kindred. Although it is estimated that there are about 100 Kindreds in Vinland today, how many of THESE will be around in a few short years? Only those with an iron will, boundless courage, and clear and level head will survive and prosper.
How to Form a Kindred
If you think that you have all the qualities of leadership and determination that are required of the Gothar, if you are willing to promote Asatru, the worship of the Holy Aesir and Vanir, and the right to self determination of our Folk... then I would encourage you to start that Kindred. The first place that I would look for members would be your own family and extended family. This is how many Kindreds are formed today in Vinland. You certainly meet all of the criteria as defined by Webster, and thus have the greatest chance of success. Your family also has friends who may be interested in joining the Kindred.
You are fortunate today that the Asatru Alliance promotes the founding and growth of Kindreds, and that through the pages of our publication, Vor Tru, we reach many of the Folk. Over the past 8 years of the Alliance, we have brought many a reader seeking Kindred association in touch with those founding Kindreds and seeking members. As the Asatru Community grows, and the influence and distribution of Vor Tru increases, more and more people are both deciding to form new Kindreds, and to take the rightful place in the Community.
The most important advice that I could give anyone wishing to form a Kindred, is to choose your members carefully. It takes a tremendous amount of effort on your behalf, and you need people who have a positive attitude.
You will need people whom you can trust and depend on. People with negative attitudes only draw strength and vitality from you. They will sap your spiritual and physical strength, and you will fail in your purpose of forming a group of self-supportive people dedicated to making the Kindred succeed.
You must have members who you feel comfortable around and whom you can trust explicitly at Kindred gatherings and events. If some oddball or loose-canon type comes around, politely show them the door. You and your family, and the women and children of your group, should at all times feel safe and comfortable. If you have to spend all of your time worrying about so-and-so running amok, your Kindred will fail. Follow your instincts the AllFather gave them to you for just such reasons.
At first, it is more important to have a small, loyal, tightly knit group, than a large group with no cohesive purpose or goal. It is much easier to focus on your Kindred development with four or five individuals committed to making the Kindred work, than twenty people with twenty different ideas on what they think the Kindred should be. Once your group has established itself, and has developed a Kindred philosophy and a system of gatherings that works, then open up the Kindred to new membership a little at a time.
Over the years, I have seen one Kindred after the other explode onto the scene with a fast growing membership, lots of plans and boundless energy, only to see them fail. The Kindred leader, for one reason or another, didn't have a cohesive plan that worked. Or the leader was inconsistent with Kindred focus and goals, and kept changing the direction of the Kindred. For instance, he changes the name of the Kindred several times a year, one moment he is Asatru, the next Vanatru... or Odinn is his mentor today, and it is Thorr tomorrow. Indecisiveness, confusion, and just plain stupidity, will lead to failure. It is very important for the Kindred leader to be consistent and open in his plans for the group.
Next, one should always lead by example. As the founder and leader of a Kindred, people will look to you for guidance. Live true always be honest and honorable in your dealings with the Folk. You are a role model, and you must never forget it.
Learn to cultivate leadership traits in the members of your Kindred. Encourage people to take an active role during Kindred activities and planning. If someone has an idea and the ability to follow through with it, be supportive and helpful. As your Kindred grows, there will be plenty of work to go around.
It is vital for the healthy growth and development of the Kindred to have regular gatherings. The more frequent the gatherings, the better. I would encourage those who can to meet once a week. If that is not possible, try to get the Kindred together as often as possible. The Arizona Kindred meets every Wodensday. Now I realize that we have members in several states, and even within the state, some of us are separated by hundreds of miles. Some of us though only live a few miles from each other, so we meet once a week. We also have the seasonal Blots as well as other important gatherings throughout the year. We expect our members to attend all the gatherings that they can, with at least one a year being mandatory.
We have always expected our members to be self reliant, and one way to promote this is to have regular camp outs. In the Winter we camp in the desert, and in the Summer months we camp in the mountains. We encourage our members to procure suitable camping equipment, and to learn campcraft. Of course, for those new to camping in the great outdoors, we always have enough gear to share. If at all possible, schedule several camping trips a year. The Arizona Kindred meets this way about six times per year.
At our camp outs, we follow a usual routine. Those who can, arrive Friday afternoon to secure a campsite and to generally set up the camp. We usually have an informal meal that evening and just kick back and enjoy each others' company around the fire.
On Saturday morning we usually have some type of group activity. This could be going for a hike, a trip down to the swimming hole, or perhaps a firewood scrounging expedition. Sometimes we will have a seminar and discuss an important topic. By mid afternoon, we prepare for the Blot. Following the Blot, we have a formal Feast. This is usually a pot luck dinner, with everyone bringing something to share with the Kindred. The Kindred usually supplies the meat for the cookout, and has a campstove available for those who need to cook their offering to the Feast. In the evening at dusk, we hold the Sumbel. We encourage our members to brew their own mead and bring it to share at the Sumbel. Following the Sumbel, we usually stay around the campfire and just enjoy each others' company.
On Sunnasday morning, as Gothi, I cook breakfast for the Kindred. This usually consists of hearty Spam sandwiches and berserker coffee. I have been known to cook breakfast for 30 people or more.
After breakfast, the whole Kindred should be engaged in cleaning the grounds, and as a last gesture, we make an offering to the Land Spirits. This sequence of events works well for the Kindred, and people learn to work with the schedule. Again, consistency is the key to successful outings.
At our weekly gatherings, being limited to a couple of hours at a time, we usually spend the first half hour or so just talking about our week, and sharing any news or ideas with the Kindred. Then we have an ongoing project that we work on. We have for the past year been studying the Runes. At first we concentrated on the basics, learning how to pronounce them, write them, know them, and later we carved them. We each made our own Gandr. Then as our knowledge progressed, we made our own Runes and started to cast them. At the same time, we read and studied the Rune Poems of the Eddas. Always working together as a group to learn all that we possibly can about the Runes. This work continues today. We also have studied the Havamal, and continue to do so. We are now comparing various translations of the old Lays to learn even more. Lately we have started to study Old Norse for liturgical reasons and for everyday conversation. This is a work in progress.
Future plans are for brewing classes, wood carving, organic gardening, home disaster preparedness, and what ever else we decide to learn and to share with each other. Although all of this takes time, we look at this as all in a life's work. We will continue to meet and study as long as we draw breath.
This should give you some idea of Kindred activities. Remember the importance of meeting often, and having interesting activities for the Kindred to share.
As The Kindred Grows
Sooner or later, there will be the need for the Kindred leader to share the responsibility and workload of managing the Kindred with others. Early on one finds that the many tasks necessary to produce a successful Kindred gathering are just too much for one person to handle. You should not be shy about asking for help from the members of the Kindred. In fact, many are looking for ways that they can help all you need do is ask. I know some Kindreds who are very fortunate to have members quite willing to act as chairmen of the various committees necessary for successful Kindred management and functions.
Another important step for the Kindred as it grows, is to decide to incorporate in their state as a non-profit church, and eventually apply to the IRS for 501 (c) non-profit status. This will require for the membership of the Kindred to elect three officers to serve on the Board of Directors of the corporation. The requirements for incorporation vary from one state to the next, but basically the steps are: elect a president, vice-president, and secretary/treasurer and draw up a Constitution for the church/Kindred, and a set of By Laws. Other states may require credentials from the "National Church" granting so-and-so Kindred official recognition. This of course can be handled by the office of the Secretary/Treasurer of the Asatru Alliance. A simple request to the Secretary is all that is necessary to grant credentials.
Some states require that the Constitution, By Laws, and Articles of Incorporation be published in the legal ad section of a newspaper. Of course this takes money. When the Arizona Kindred incorporated ten years ago in Arizona, it cost us about $650.00 for all the fees, which included publishing our incorporation papers in the local newspaper three times. Then there are the incorporation fees themselves, which can run anywhere from $75.00 to $150.00 for non-profits, and some may have to seek legal help as well. So, it is obvious that this will take a major commitment from the Kindred, but those Kindred leaders out there who recognize the great importance of legitimizing Asatru know that it is worth the effort.
Once this is accomplished, and when your Kindred is serious about obtaining money and property, then it is time to file with the IRS for your non-profit status. You will find when you first go down to your local bank and want to open a checking account for the Kindred, that the bank will require you to supply them with what they call an EIN number. This is an Employer's Identification Number. It is the equivalent of a Social Security number, except for an organization. This of course allows the IRS to keep complete tabs on all people and organizations that use banking services. It is very important for the IRS to keep their super computers busy compiling data bases on everyone and everything.
Now, there is a gray area in the way that the IRS looks at non-profit churches. If your Kindred is only taking in and paying out a couple of thousand dollars a year, they do not pay much attention to you and leave you completely alone. It is when you reach the level where you are taking in over $5,000 per year that you must look for the 501 (C) status. Of course your Kindred may cruise along forever and not take in very much money, but what if you decided to acquire property, build a Hof or activity center? What if someone passes over the Bifrost Bridge and leaves the Kindred a nice sum in their Will? Or maybe a rich philanthropist comes along and likes what you are doing and donates $100,000 to the Kindred, then what are you going to do? Well, if you are not incorporated and have not received your EIN number, you can not accept the donation without having to pay taxes on it. And the person making the donation can't use it as a tax deduction. So, chances are, that they may go elsewhere to relieve themselves of their money or property. If your Kindred has completed the first two steps of incorporation and obtaining an EIN number, you could probably accept a large donation, but would be required by the IRS to immediately request for 501 (c) recognition.
So what is required of the Kindred to obtain 501 (c) status? First of all, the IRS requires for you to pay them $500 for the filing fee. You then have to meet their criteria of just what a church is. You also have to provide them with some type of Financial Report of just what kind of money the Kindred holds, where it came from, and where it went, so they can again see if it fits their criteria as a church. It's really not as hard to do all of this as it may sound. Other Kindreds have already completed all three steps, and they would be glad to advise anyone who is seeking information on how to proceed.
I must stress at this time, that the structure of the Asatru Alliance is nothing more than a confederation of independent Kindreds. The Alliance is not an organization. We do not have a Board of Directors, a membership list, or do we charge dues. So the Alliance itself is not incorporated. The true strength of the Alliance lies in the number of Kindreds that it has who have accomplished the three steps of legitimacy outlined above. Of course we stress this point in our By Laws where we urge Kindreds to incorporate.(Editorial note since the writing of this article the Asatru Alliance has become a 501(c) 3 corporation).
Asatru is poised on the threshold of tremendous growth. The infrastructure for the future must be in place first. I urge all Kindreds to proceed with the three steps as soon as they are able.
Seeking Kindred Membership in the Asatru Alliance
Whereas the Asatru Alliance is not a mail order church, there are no provisions for individual membership in the Alliance. To be a member of the Alliance, you must belong to an official Alliance Kindred that is, a Kindred that has met all criteria for membership in the Alliance and has petitioned the Thing for full membership, and has been accepted by an official vote of the Thing.
The Alliance has provisions for people who are trying to form Kindreds. You need to write the secretary/treasurer of the Alliance and outline your request to form a Formational Kindred with the Alliance. In this letter you must declare that you will uphold the By Laws of the Alliance, and make an honest effort to respond to all inquires that you may receive of people wishi ng to make contact with you for possible Kindred membership. That does not imply that you have to accept any or all of the people who contact you, it just means that you at least have the courtesy to respond to their request for information.
Your Kindred will then be listed in the Kindred Listings of the Alliance in the Formational Kindred section. This allows our many Vor Tru readers to seek out a Kindred in their area for possible membership. When you eventually are ready for Official Kindred status, you then send your delegate with membership petition to the AlThing.
I might add at this point that it is very important to have a permanent and secure mailing address. I do not advise using your home address, but rather a Post Office box, for security reasons. You do not want some psyched out Jesus Freak paying you a midnight visit to vandalize or terrorize you. The worst that they can do to your Post Office box is to scratch your numbers off, or write you a hate letter. It is also important that this be a permanent address, for it is very confusing for everyone when a Kindred changes its address.
I hope that this article has been of some help in explaining both what one should do to form a Kindred, but also how an existing Kindred can avoid some of the mistakes that the Founders made back in the days when forming a Kindred was breaking new ground with no one to look to for advice and instruction.
As the Asatru Community grows, and it is at a rapid rate, the Folk will look to the Kindreds to provide them with a place to be with people of like mind and purpose; a place for spiritual growth, and a place to share common social values.
It is up to us to prepare for the future by promoting the formation and growth of healthy and vibrant Kindreds, and thus secure a future for our children on Midgard.