Celebrating Summer the Pagan Way

PaganKochThe summer solstice has historically been a time for celebration, the extended hours of daylight drawing out all the summer-smug citizens. Midsummer is a pagan holiday which occurs each year around summer solstice on June 21, and to date there are at least a couple local pagans, one of whom was willing to share his Midsummer plans and shed some light on modern paganism.Philip Koch belongs to the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), a Germanic neopagan organization founded in 1994 by Stephen A. McNallen. An Oregon transplant from Texas, Koch discovered the AFA three years ago after a near-death experience, which involved slicing his arm’s radial artery while moving a fish tank.

“I had a lot of time to sit and think about things and reflect on how unhappy I was with life,” said Koch, who up until then identified as an atheist.

What ultimately drove it home for Koch was the scar on his arm, starkly resembling the rune Eihwaz from the runic alphabet Futhark, which symbolizes life and death. Koch could not chalk this up to mere coincidence. “For a long time I thought to myself, extraordinary claims call for extraordinary proof. And I got my extraordinary proof.”

Pagan Folk and Folkishness
Koch was drawn to the Asatru folk for their strong sense of community through shared Germanic ancestry. One of the Assembly’s declared purposes is “the preservation of European peoples.” Essentially, the Assembly is a closed group of folkish followers with German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and Dutch ancestry, unlike most universalist religions which are open to people of all heritages.

Asatru is focused in part on the Nordic and Germanic indigenous religions. Both Nordic and Germanic pre-Christian religions were polytheistic, believing in multiple deities or gods and goddesses. Koch considers himself a “hard polytheist,” believing the deities exist as discrete beings or entities.

Unlike others he’s seen “try to attribute [the deities] to some kind of quantum phenomena or Jungian archetypes,” Koch keeps his idea of the gods’ existence simple. “I know what I am, I know what they are; I’m a man, they are gods, and as far as I’m concerned that’s the extent of it.”

“A lot of our faith boils down to be a good person and use common sense,” Koch explained. Most of the Asatru principles center around heritage, honor, and the pursuit of knowledge. There is a strong military background within the Assembly, founder McNallen himself a Vietnam vet.

“We are very big on honor. We are very big on duty and the whole Viking thing does tend to attract a lot of people that are inclined to be that way,” said Koch.

Honoring the Gods
Koch described two types of rituals, Blot and Sumbel, in honoring and connecting with the gods. During Blot, a horn of mead is passed around a circle, and all who lay hands on the horn concentrate on putting their might or “maine” or goodwill into the horn, which is poured out and refilled by a priest or priestess—called Gothi or Gythia, respectively. The Gothi or Gythia lifts up the refilled horn, presenting it to the gods, who are believed to fill the horn with their gifts of wisdom, might, etc., so the horn can then be passed around and drunk from again.

Sumbel focuses more on the folk’s ancestry and current members, consisting of three rounds of offerings through the horn. The gods are hailed in the first round, then fallen ancestors or heroes in the second. During the third and final round, a person sings a song or reads a poem, or even speaks on behalf of personal accomplishment.

Unlike Christianity, paganism—or more specifically Asatru—doesn’t look at modesty with much esteem. “If you’ve done something great, you should be proud of it,” said Koch.

Midsummer at the Hof
Koch will be celebrating Midsummer at the Assembly’s new hof in Northern California the weekend of summer solstice. Hof literally translates to “house,” and theirs acts as the folk’s holy temple. Recently purchased and converted from an old grange hall, the Assembly is expecting folk from all over the country to gather at the hof to camp and feast in celebration.

Koch described Midsummer as a celebration of “life and joy,” with the involved rituals of a lighter nature. There is talk of bringing out the Maypole—that delightful-looking activity where people move in circles, winding ribbon around a pole—though the ritual traditionally belongs to May Day, the pagan celebration of spring’s beginning.

“It’s a mix of religious activities and socializing and mundane function kinds of things,” said Koch. Leaders within the Assembly will be taking the opportunity to meet and discuss organizational matters. The Assembly was led solely by McNallen until recently, when despite good health, he stepped down and appointed three councilman in his place.

As for Koch, he sees himself stepping up within the Assembly eventually and taking on a more organizational role. Though he once considered going the Gothi route, Koch believes he can better serve the folk in the capacity of organizing events and getting people together.

Midsummer at the hof is closed and not accessible to the public. For more information on the Asatru Folk Assembly, visit them online at Home – Asatru Folk Assembly.

By Stevie Beisswanger