There seems to be a tendency among scholars to investigate temporary paganism. There are people who say that paganism is the world’s fastest growing religion. I am currently reading Michael Strmiska’s Modern Paganism In World Cultures with essays about Romuva (Lithuanian heathenry), pagans in the US military, Irish modern druids and Asatru in Northern America and Iceland (among other essays). I also know of books about current German paganism (but not like Strmiska’s book) and I know about an anthropology student who investigated the Flemish group that I am involved in (but I never saw the result). Since there seems to be nothing (but information of antifa groups) available about Dutch and Belgium Asatru, I thought to write a little introduction for investigators who may be unfamiliar with nowadays heathenry in the Dutch-speaking part of Northern Europe.
Let me start with the group I am most active in and which is also the oldest, Werkgroep Traditie vzw. “Werkgroep” literally means “working group”, “Traditie”, “Tradition” and “vzw” that it is a registered association that does not make profit.
Traditie was founded in 1993. There were people in Flanders (Dutch-speaking Belgium) who lived ‘the old way’. It is not entirely clear to me how that came about, but there were quite a few families celebrating solstices and other ‘heathen’ events. This could be (partly) caused by the nationalistic youth movement. Where we in the Netherlands just have the scouting, Flanders have youth groups of a nationalistic nature. Flanders is set against Wallonia (the French-speaking part of Belgium), nationalistic songs are taught and in general Flemish-nationalism is presented to the children. I suppose something like this would never be possible in the Netherlands where people tend to cry out about “extremists”, “far right nationalists”, etc. a lot easier. Flemings are proud to be Flemings and people does not immediately associate such sentiments with extreme politics. In any case, besides nationalistic teachings, many of such groups tend to use heathen symbolism. Walls are adorned with (bind)runes, solstices celebrated, it looks weird when you see that as an outsider, but things do not get much more political as singing the Dutch (!!) national anthem. Koenraad Logghe (1963-) knew many of such families from his own youth movement time and in 1993 he thought that it was time to get these families together and Werkgroep Traditie was founded.
Logghe himself has been politically active in his earlier years, a bit further to the margins than the youth groups. This past still hunts him and with him, it also follows Traditie. I have known Logghe very well for several years. He is the kind of genuine esotericist, with Guéonian thinking as basis (hense: Traditie), Freemasonry as his link to the Primordial Tradition and heathenry as his religion. Logghe is an extremely active student and built a solid (for some too solid) foundation for Traditie. This focus on the theoretical part alienated some of the original members who thought that Traditie was to become a ‘Logghe cult’ with a doctrine instead of a group with people with similar ideas and everyone his own ideas. I never experienced the straightjacket myself, but that could be because with my own ideas, the ideas of Logghe felt like homecoming. Because of this, but also because Logghe used way too much of his time for Traditie (by lack of other people making an effort) and his efforts to spend a lot of time for “the lodge” as well, chairmanship was transferred to Stefaan van den Eynde (1967-) and later to Herman Vanhove and in 2008 Logghe left Traditie. Van den Eynde was an early member of Traditie, one of the first who did not come from the original families and he joined Traditie when the group was just opened for not-originally-pagans. Vanhove does come from the old youthmovement group, a bit of a second generation (but of the age of Logghe I believe).
Traditie in practice
In the last years, Traditie has two annual celebrations and sometimes some smaller ones. Yule is a feast that has been organised for many, many years by two kindred groups. De Wende (roughly the old families) has been celebrating Yule for over two decades, Hnikar (a Perchten menbond with members who are also members of Traditie) for about a decade. Both celebrations are fairly big (60, 70 people) and very different. De Wende has a children-friendly celebration with some ‘theater’ inside and an outside part with fire and a jump over the remains of it. Hnikar organises a long night with a walk, the scary Hnikar, a ritual with large bonfire, eating and drinking.
In 2011 I think it will be the seventh Ostara celebration. From the second one organised by myself (but of course not alone). Ostara is the largest and most family-friendly celebration and includes a small ritual, egg-hunting (of course), palm-sunday-crosses (not a very Christian thing in origin) and of course eating and drinking. At Ostara about 100 people show up, many of which are children.
Other celebrations are reminding the dead/ancestors around All Souls, a very small celebration, and the goal is to have one shifting celebration per year, such as a harvest feast, a Maypole planting, etc. This does not work out too well. Many member-families have their own small celebrations.
Traditie does not know anything like symbel and not really any kind of offering (save for small hey-figures at Yule or dried herbs at Ostara). Singing and dancing is always part of the celebrations, since many members are much involved in folklore choirs and dancing groups. The rituals are mostly symbolical and lack most theatre. There are no leaders in strange clothing, no Viking-looking members or anything of that kind. Traditie does not have anything like a leader or Godi either (even though Logghe is (or at least used to be) regarded as a Godi by some), depending on who organises a celebration, one of more people lead a ritual or the ritual is a mutual event of everybody present.
Like I said, in the time of Logghe, there were people who regarded his Traditionalistic esotericism as a doctrine, but especially for the common member could have his/her own ideas and everybody does. Some people are more historically inclined, others have reconstructionists tendensies, again others are also members of other heathen groups. There used to be “inner circles” whose members received esoteric education of Logghe (I am one of those lucky ones). These inner circle-members were also active in organising events and the like. This ‘inner structure’ collapsed with the depart of Logghe, undoubtely to the relief of some and to the dismay of others. Inner circle members were supposed to at least accept the Guénonian way of thinking. Nowadays Traditie presents itself as a group of freethinking heathens.
There have always been bookworms delving miles-deep in folklore and the remains of Norhern-European heathen texts, coming up with interesting studies and nice novelties. Others are more practical and prefer celebrations over books. Even though of course heavily thriving on the Icelandic texts that remain, Traditie members always had the tendency to look at the local prechristian and “folk Christian” past and there is no hostility towards other religions. A daytrip usually includes the visit of churches and the like. Also Traditie has been active in the founding of the World Congress Of Ethnic Religions including Romuva, other Asatru or heathen European groups, Sikhs, Hindus, etc.
Traditie on the web
Traditie used to have a quarterly periodical, due to costs and the fact that this was too much effort for a few, it was replaced by a digital newsletter. Even though there has been a website for many years, this is very outdated and a new version has been announced for several years. For a while it seemed as if the website had to make place of a Facebook group, but also here nothing much happens. Traditie is not very active on the world wide web when I write this.
I believe my first Yule celebration was in the very far West Flanders. Belgium is not very big, but West Flanders is quite a drive. Later it seemed that Traditie has most members in other parts of Belgium and there were talks about a West Flemish branch. I suppose this did not work out somehow and instead of a West Flemish branch of Traditie, at (this?) Yule 2004, Werkgroep Hagal was founded. Some members are active within Traditie and the relations between both groups are good. Hagal has a much lower average age and still is in its youthfull “Sturm und Drang” period us Traditie-members like to say. Hagal has more political focus. Where Traditie keeps politics outside, Hagal goes to political celebrations, cooperates with a political radio station and recently started to use the term “Odalism” to describe their philosophy. The Odal-rune refers to native soil and heritage, “Odalism” is almost by definition a political kind of heathenry. Hagal is much smaller, but much more active than Traditie. The good-looking website is frequently revamped, Hagal is quite visible to the outside world with anti-Santaklaus and anti-amateur archeology campaigs, they have a radio program and a physical magazine that is becoming more and more professional, they sell patches and stickers with their logo, publish their own booklets, etc. However I receive the newsletter and magazine, I am not too actively involved with Hagal. I enjoy their sturdy anti-consumer-society attitude, but on some points I find it all too political(-like).
Hagal has its focal point in the coastal part of Flanders, but has members throughout Belgium and is more than Traditie active in recruiting Dutch people. These people are often young metalheads as far as I can judge, but I believe there are also some families among the ranks.
Hagal can be found at www.hagal.be and from there you can easily click through to their Facebook and other online activities.
In 2000 a few young Dutchmen learned that they had a mutual interest in prechristian history. One with more focus on Frisian history, the other with a more general interest, etc. The men stayed in contact and after a while decided to set up a website to give proper information about heathenry and to try to lift the taboo that had laid on the subject since world war II. A few similar initiatives came together and birth was given to the first forum. The forum grew steadily in members and had to be replaced a couple of times for different reasons. At a certain point the domain heidendom.nl was registered and the website became more professional. I do not exactly remember when I joined the forum, but the current forum has me listed for november 2004. Heidendom.nl, later Nederlands Heidendom was mostly a virtual group of youngsters for many years. “Heidendom”, by the way, is the general Dutch term for non-Christianity, much like “heathenry” or “paganism”; “Nederlands” (of course) just means “Dutch”. The number of members on the forum grew steadily. When I write this, there are 284 members.
The initial group grew a little and lost a few, but they kept seeing eachother. They took daytrips and in the end decided to work on a celebration. Ostara was chosen to be the first, so the “Ostara committee” saw the light of day. Ostara proved too soon and the first celebration was Yule, and another Yule, and another. Other activities that have been organised for many years are walks, events in which virtual acquaintances could meet in person and an annual drinking feast early in the new year. In due time the demand for larger and more open celebrations grew and the original small group started to work on a Midsummer weekend. As of now (about 10 years after it all began), there are two celebrations per year, Midsummer and Midwinter, at least two walks around the solstices (no ritual angle to these days) and the drinking bout. At the latter quite a few people turn up, people from the forum who want to meet other forum members, but are not interested or ready for more ‘serious’ religious activities. At walks and Midsummer and Midwinter there are about 20 people present, some are always there when they can, others differ. When somebody wants to attend a weekend, (s)he first has to opt for a Midsummer celebration and the organisers try to judge if the person is serious enough. Midsummer is helt on a camping, Midwinter in a holiday farm and because the second is more intimate, Midwinter is mostly for people who have ‘proven’ to blend well into the group.
Nederlands Heidendom shows a variety in members. There are Frisian ‘nationalists’, people who would call themselves “Asatruar”, people who are also involved in other groups (like myself) or in reenactment groups, people who have mostly an historical interest, many have found heathenry through metal music, some are superficially interested, others bookworms. The versatility makes a nice mix of people who know a lot about folklore, people who are interested in herbs and trees, walking historical encyclopedias, bookworms with a broad interest and very practical people. The most active group of the moment nicely complement eachother. Nederlands Heidendom does not have a membership though, celebrations are financed by having members pay for it and because there is not a general ‘philosophy’, the people involved can hardly be called “Asatruar”, “reconstructionist” or anything. There are a few things that do count for most of the people involved; a dislike of ecclectic New Age paganism such as certain forms of Wicca and (which may be surprising) a leftish political outlook (that is not to say that there are no conservative people, but politics are conscientiously kept outdoors).
I have been active on the forums for many years, attended some of the walks (starting with a joint walk with Traditie), but only in the last years have I become more involved in the ‘religious side’ of Nederlands Heidendom. Since Traditie does not have a Midsummer celebration, me and my girlfriend decided to see what a Nederlands Heidendom Midsummer would be like. Contrary to Traditie, a celebration is not just one night (or a whole day), but a weekend. On Friday night there is usually a writing contest (both in summer and in winter), on Saturday preparations for and the celebration of two rituals and a long night with singing and drinking. Sunday at Midsummer starts with dew-rolling (an old habbit in some parts of the Netherlands) and (more) sleeping, breakfast and cleaning and packing. Tasks are divided over people present, some cook, others do dishes, make preparations for the rituals, etc. Nederlands Heidendom does have a symbel(-like) part in their rituals, offerings to the Gods and at Midwinter a ‘ritual banquet’ with a seat for the ancestors. Nederlands Heidendom has reconstructionist tendencies in forming their celebrations and incorporate elements that may seem like folklore, but which appear to have had religious connotations in early times, such as the throwing of the sun-cock off a pole at the Midsummer celebration. Just as Traditie, celebrations are not helt on the actual days of the equinoxes and solstices, but in the nearest weekend. A practical choice, that I would vote against to. Just as with Traditie, there is not really a common philosophy and there is (almost) no interest in magical systems such as Seidhr, Spá, Utiseti, even the runes play a marginal role in both groups. I personally have doubts by the historical use or means of the named systems, so they are simply avoided. Of course individual people may practise these arts in private.
Nederlands Heidendom can be found at NederlandsHeidendom.nl. The website is in Dutch.
In 2014 is appeared that not all opinions were welcome within NH and arguments about a very fundamental subject ran out of hand and NH more or less split into Nederlands Heidendom .net and Heidevlam. This even split the original group.
Het Rad is a relatively old, but also a small, Dutch group. Just as Nederlands Heidendom they have no formal membership. Inspite of the small number of members, Het Rad has had a magazine since 1997. I only know Het Rad from the internet and one member who also comes to Nederlands Heidendom activities. Het Rad seems to be more ecclectic than the earlier mentioned groups and does not shy to speak about Seidhr and the like. A book published by one of the members coining their form of heathenry as “Asatru”, but I doubt everybody calling him-/herself “Asatruar” will applaud the content.
More information on the group’s website.
These are the groups that I know in the Low Countries. There also seem to be people involved in the Odinic Rite, I suppose people who are member of the Runegild and a handfull of policially rightwing groups that use heathen imaginary, but I do not have any information about them myself. Of course there are also Wicca and Druid groups, other kinds of witches and most likely other kinds of paganism in general, but also there goes, lack of interest makes me having no information about these either. Especially Belgium has quite a few kindred organisations that focus on parts of the local folklore, shooting guilds that try to rebuild the true tradition, etc. Of course these kinds of groups and organisations overlap, but I mostly wanted to give a short introduction into Northern European (reconstructionist) kinds of groups.
I would like to ask people involved in the mentioned groups to complement and rectify me where necessary.
[first edit 21/4/11]
[again at 22/10/14]
On the Nederlands Heidendom forum, somebody noted me about the fact that the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft (GGG for short) has members in the Netherlands. There is information about the GGG available in English on the internet. GGG-world.net and Wikipedia.
When looking for information about the Dutch branch of the GGG, I ran into a few other names that I had not mentioned yet. De Negen Werelden (‘the nine worlds’) have a good-looking website on which they state that they “[…] a stray flock of independent heathens. Here we offer our view on asatru through articles, stories and opinions. In addition, we invite people with us and asatru sharing during open rituals, workshops and other meetings.”
Then I saw references to a Werkgroep Aver that I never heard of. It appears to be a Dutch group (aroudn the city of Leiden) springing forth from some (new-)right movements and having links with Voorpost, the Dutch new-right ‘think tank’ that is fond of heathen symbology.
Lastly, there is a website Theudisk.org. However at first that sounds like a þheodisc branch. In fact it is nothing but some political right forum with a few heathen references.
Hi. Nice to see this essay and I am happy that my writings may have helped inspire you. I am interested to know more about these groups, and would be happy to talk with anyone. I am especially interested in afterlife beliefs currently. I wonder if Heathens in Belgium think of the afterlife as a community place with ancestors, or recycling into nature, or reincarnation, or…?
Michael, you are welcome to come back and continue your fieldwork from 2005 (World Congress Of Ethnic Religions, Antwerp)!