There is currently a growing interest in the world of Vikings and the religion of the Norse people of northern Europe existing as a religion until the Christianisation of northern Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. This is not just limited to the fan base of those who watch the serial available through the Internet or television programming. The resurgence of the Norse paganism is widespread. Official sites identify religious practices and codes of behaviour as such as Asatru Canada. And while official numbers are hard to find, within the Canadian Armed Forces this is growing movement. It reflects something happening within our society and indeed within the Church. Let me explain what I believe is happening.
In most western societies the arms and warrior society of the Victorian Era have died away. It has left the liberal social-capitalist systems we find which has discouraged militarism and the traditional roles in our societies. Men and women are free to pursue their own goals and life styles that are frequently at odds with traditional roles. In some cases, this has been liberating but it has also left men and women to their own devices in surviving these changes.
Indeed, this has affected the Catholic Church since the mid-1960s. With the changes brought since the Second Vatican Council, the Mass and tasks in the Church have changed. Before 1970 only men were employed during the Mass to serve either as boys or men and of course only men could and still only they can, be ordained to the Sacred Priesthood. Men and women both worked in the Church, but many jobs were socially designated as “male” or “female”. Today, that has changed, and we find that since 1970 many if not most tasks in the Church have been taken on by women. Sacristans, servers, pastoral associates, etc, are often women and so the Church has been gradually feminised.
From my own experience in parishes, if the servers were equally represented as boys and girls (which is allowed in Canada), then boys would continue to serve the Mass. But when the number of girls increases beyond 60% the boys stop serving. This leaves just girls serving. In my parishes in some instances it became all women working in the parish. All tasks were taken by them and also the serving and reading. What are men supposed to do? How do the men relate to the Church when this situation occurs? If this is brought up in the parish, the priest is castigated for being anti women and the howls of “yet again women cannot have roles in the Church” when in fact they may have all of them in some cases.
Back to my original point of why Norse paganism has become popular. I find that many Catholic men are involved in the Norse movement. I wondered why this was happening. I work as a priest in the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service serving at a garrison in southern Québec. Most of the military staff is from the Royal 22è Régiment and the Royal Canadian Regiment. Most of the male members of the divisions have beards and are often large beards, especially those who identify as Norse. With the new permission for all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces to wear beards, it has become common. These members are mostly French speaking, nominally Catholic, and appreciate having a Padre who is a priest, goes with them in the field and has a big beard like theirs (though a bit greyer) and like to have discussions about religion with me. Even those who have not practised their Catholic faith since their youth, know a good bit of the basics of the faith. But many do not practice the Catholic faith, but identify as Norse.
I believe a great part of this is the Church has little appeal. These mostly bearded army men that have been trained in the Canadian Army warrior ways and seek similar life styles. If and when they are at the Mass for baptisms, weddings or funerals what greets them? A flurry of parish “ministries” carried out by the women of the parish and a priest who is often clean shaven and almost as feminine as the workers. There is little for the men to connect with. (And those who would remedy it with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, while it appeals to many traditional families, does not solve all the problems, those it does solve the visual. However, as a priest who celebrates the EF Mass, I have seen there are many men clinging to this form of the Mass who are the bow tie and fedora wearing and not at all the image of men that chop wood and fix the roof.)
We are visual people. We “read” others and situations. We identify immediately or not with our surroundings. Many men no longer identify with the Church, at least not the current image.
And there we have the Attraction of Thor. These and many other men are not going to identify with Catholic “lite”. Their lives are hard, and full of risk. They are fathers and soldiers or sailors or aviators. They seek not comfort but fortitude and a priest and Church that can be of help to maintain this duty and purpose in life as fathers and warriors. The church has for so long now focussed on its attempts to attract and maintain members with all sorts of innovations and yet has lost so many through something quite simple. And so many men have turned away from the scandals from priests and bishops who are so unlike themselves, and identify with the pagan gods of old that have the image and visuals that are more in keeping with their own male identity.
Perhaps I have oversimplified this but I really believe we have failed the men in our communities and lost many opportunities for evangelisation. There has to be a balance in the Church for everything. The pendulum has swung too far and must come back to a sensible life for all members of the Church. And I would advocate for a return to the Traditional Latin Mass and practice in liturgy, but also a dignified Ordinary Form that actually follows the rubrics and has far less invention. We need priests that serve parishes and are the men other men can identify with.