A while back, we posted on our Facebook an article by the NavyTimes regarding the beginning of Norse Pagan services onboard an aircraft carrier. Heathens around the world are counting this one as a big win, and religious freedom activists couldn’t agree more.
The John C. Stennis aircraft carrier hosts weekly religious services where parishioners can learn about the Norse gods, and celebrate in their own way.
These services are run by Aviation Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Joshua Wood, who was appointed to this duty by his commanding officer, as is the rule. You can read more about Wood and his congregation (for lack of a better word) here. But before you click over, we decided to get a little perspective. And we had just the right person to ask.
Senior Airman Rick Uliano is my brother (and the gifter of my very first drinking horn!). He is also recently separated from the Air Force. He's also a petitioner of several Norse gods, including Odin, Thor, Heimdal, and Tyr. He wasn't always. Like me, he was raised Roman-Catholic and then found his faith after high school, thanks to metal concerts.
“I was listening to Amon Amarth at the time,” he’s still a really big fan, “and I was really paying attention to their lyrics and stories. They’re good songs on their own, but getting to know the content really helped. I started seeking out these stories, and I read Snorri, and any other books I could find.”
“When I married my wife, she helped.” My sister-in-law, Xiara Uliano (who is also recently-separated), was raised in a pagan family. She celebrates the Greek gods and goddesses and also practices witchcraft. “Paganism and witchcraft are like Islam and Christianity.” They’re so similar and they feed off the same sources. They ultimately stem from worshipping more practical gods and goddesses. “They focus on things that can actually affect you,” Rick says. “They’re idols, yeah, but they have substance behind them.”
When my brother joined the military, fitting into the Astaru lifestyle helped him adjust. “Being a Norse pagan,” particularly one that celebrates Thor and Tyr, “is about the life of a warrior. And as a warrior, you’re effectively in servitude. Whether it’s as a servant to your god or your government, it feels the same. That’s the attitude you have to have in this business.”
And this business is primarily one of killing things or being killed. “You are, directly or indirectly, responsible for many, many people being killed every day. The military kills people. No matter what else they do, that's what seperates them from everything else. And that’s not a very Christian thing to do. I don’t think I could earnestly be a Christian and still be OK with that.”
He mentions the god Tyr. When you’re worshipping Tyr, you’re orienting yourself toward a warrior’s attitude. You’re thinking and meditating about war and killing. That’s not something that Christians do while worshipping.
It’s not surprising that Rick found more people interested in Asatru in the military. He met one of his best friends, Cory, there, and they instantly clicked over their other eccentricities. But the more they talked, the more they opened up about their Norse obsessions.
And what did they do when they met? They were maintaining bombs. Nuclear bombs. That headspace lead him and many of his cohorts to a different form of religion.
“You might not be a warrior directly, but you’re responsible for something that has the potential to kill billions of people. There’s something really bizarre about that. You’re the insurance policy that ensures the apocalypse, and you have to find a way to be OK with that. You can’t be a pacifist. How could you do that if you were Christian? Jesus was a hippie! He only had a couple rules and the big one is, ‘don’t kill!’”
While he has some close friends still in the military that are Asatru (and other forms of heathenry), some people do get weird about it. Bringing it up to non-heathens can get predictable. He’s been asked why he worships the devil. He’s also been asked if he’s a white supremacist.
“If you’re going to be racist, you can only blame it on yourself. You can be any race to be Asatru." It's worth mentioning that my brother and I, while white, are not Scandinavian in any form. "It’s a modern resurgence; it’s not the old thing. The only reason the old version was all white is that it was secluded to that part of the world. They were all stuck up in the fjords.”
The Norse culture and religion find a lot of its symbols are used by white supremacists. For example, the rune Sowilō was used, in double, to represent the Schutzstaffel during WWII-- also known as the SS. This is something that Rick and I have hashed over time and again, and it’s always going to be a tender subject for those who celebrate Asatru. “It’s unfortunate that our symbols have been used by them, but they don’t mean the same thing to me as they mean to those people.”
I also asked him if he’d heard about the Asatru soldier in the 795th Military Police division who had been granted a religious exemption to wear a beard. It seemed the moment that he left the military, my brother started growing a beard.
"The reason you aren't allowed to grow a beard in the military is that you might need to put on a gas mask at some time. When you have a beard, you can't get that closed seal."
Rick was deployed in Turkey during their recent coup. I asked him if he had to wear a gas mask there or at any other time during his tenure in the military. “Just during Basic Training and when I qualified to go overseas.”
“It’s a good thing for soldiers to accept the old faith. It blows my mind that Christians [join the military]. It’s surprising that so many of them do.”
But there was still one big question on my mind. I have many former military friends who suffer from PTSD and other mental ailments because of their time deployed. And those friends know many from their former units who have paid the ultimate price-- not overseas, but back home when the guilt became too horrible. I asked Rick if he thought that accepting the old faith meant that it was easier for soldiers to deal with guilt.
“It could. A lot of the PTSD comes from guilt. They’re fucked up from what happened while they were deployed. But they have been doing the right thing at the time to save their lives or save a friend’s life. Whether it’s right or not is something you can debate for years, but those guys don’t have years. They have a fucking second.”
“I don’t feel right saying that I would feel fine about it because I haven’t been put in that position, but I think people might be more OK with it if they have a moral background that is accepting of the fact that those things happen. That doesn’t happen when you read the Bible."
“It makes it easier to see death in battle as something honorable and bittersweet instead of sad. They don’t look forward to dying, they don't want to die. But if they have lived and died honorably, they are with their ancestors in Valhalla and that’s something to be happy about.”
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