Let's talk Religious Accommodation

 

Hail!

 

Today I want to talk about something-beards.

Not just beards but also religious accommodations. The words “religious accommodations “usually give a picture of a Abrahamic follower with a beard or a Sheik warrior with a beard and turban. The Asatru Community will not send a letter to an employer, stating that a beard is a religious tenant or requirement for a follower of Asatru. Why? Because there are no tenants in Asatru. You do not have to sacrifice, you do not have to live in the ways of the Ancestors or try to as much as you can. You do not have to learn how to fight in a shield wall or how to hunt. The requirements for someone to sacrifice or to live a certain way is set to them by the kindred they belong to, by their community -in short it is set upon them by their community as a general guideline, then their family as to the specifics. As an example: The Asatru Community will not set the standard that you have to have a beard, leaving that to the person/family and their path in Asatru, we will also not tell anyone that they shouldn’t have a beard. Simply-that decision is up to you and your family or kindred. If you put in the work to do the research, the time and struggle to do so, it is possible to show how on your path in Asatru it is a requirement for you to have a beard, or to carry a weapon of some sort at all times, or even say hold a ceremony at certain times, even if your knee deep in the suck of the woods during a military exercise to prepare you for war (as long as the moment allows it).

 

How does this fit in to “religious accommodations”, well in the U.S Army, if someone’s religion requires them to grow a beard, carry a weapon, hold ceremonies at a certain time, they can put in the paper work to allow the accommodation to be made, as long as it does not interfere with safety, morale, and a host of other things. So back in November, I did just that. Before November I had written the paperwork needed for what I was requesting:

  1. The allowance to wear an oath ring or as I had to clarify- bracelet.

  2. The carry of a weapon representative of a ceremonial one that I use to fight with

  3. The allowance to hold ceremony in the field with the items that at a minimum are needed for my ceremonies (bowl, drinking horn, pocket alter, representation of Mjolnir “2 lbs. mini-sledge hammer” and mead/beer)

  4. To mark the palm of my hand with runes (specifically Tyr’s rune on Tuesday) as a remembrance of the Gods on their day

  5. A beard, up to the commander’s discretion on length that could be shaven whenever ordered.

 

I did the memorandum for record, added all the research that I could to support my case, added people for reference that had known me and my beliefs the longest , a basic outline of the Asatru belief , my path on it, a basic outline of a blot or ceremony, the 9 virtues ,quotes from sagas and lore, the Gods and their days and a picture of the runes, examples of other religions and how accommodations had worked for those personnel ,and why I was making the request after 4.5 years in the Army,  in the end the packet was about 6 inches thick of paper and even thicker as I put everything in page protectors and section tabs etc. I had my peers review it, had my LT of the time read it, platoon sergeant, everyone I could before I submitted it, and when I went to print off the memorandum – I sent it to the wrong printer, the commander/first sergeants printer which was 5 miles away from my platoon building.

 

Luckily it was picked up by the XO, who read it and was curious but gave it to my LT who was there for a meeting. After printing off the rest of the packet (at the right printer) I submitted it up the chain of command and to the chaplain (Catholic Chaplain who was from Africa-it’s important to note that for later) instead of submitting it to legal like was suggested. First step done.

 

Second step- A few weeks went by, I didn’t ask about it, and I was moved to be the Brigade S3 School NCO, a first for me since I had never been staff and had always been in the line till I PCS’d to the 1st EN BDE where I went to the vehicle operations platoon supporting the various schools and battalions through driving and playing OP-4 and teaching the platoon soldiers combat engineer stuff that they had forgotten due to being a support platoon. So, while I was transitioning to staff, I was called into the chaplain’s office to talk about my accommodation request. We talked for a hot minute, I was frustrated as there was a disconnect due to language, but at the end I felt he had a somewhat idea of the packet and answers to his questions. A few days went by and I had another meeting with the chaplain, who asked me a few more questions and had also asked if I had to put the things I requested into an order of importance what would it be, so I did- the ability to practice even in a field environment with my religious items( had to compare a lot of stuff to the Catholic equivalent in terms of a blot is like worship, mead is like communion , runes are like their Latin, and Mjolnir is not just a hammer ) the ability to wear an oath ring, then mark my palm with certain runes in non-permanent ink that could be washed off the next day, etc. The last thing being the beard as it was not as important to me as an oath ring and the other items. Shortly we were joined by my commander, we talked, he had questions and words of wisdom, his concerns -such as how would other look at it, if it was approved for one it would have to be approved for all who requested etc. A few days later I heard back in the form of a memorandum and spoken words that from the company commander my request was denied and in keeping in the regulation was then sent to the Brigade Commander.

 

Third step- I was starting to settle into staff life and office work/having tact instead of my usual mindset and was told I had a meeting with the Brigade Commander in a few days on my religious accommodation, so I went to meet with him. It was like an interview, and I was nervous-the normal line mentality that I still had is that you should never, I mean never have to meet with the Brigade Commander or Brigade Command Sergeant Major, and I was still new to the unit so even as a sergeant I was damn nervous. He had questions, done his homework on Asatru, questions like what is the difference between Asatru and Odinist , the nine noble virtues what are they, stuff like that , going over everything in detail and at times saying-so what your saying is this. It was not at all bad, he wasn’t judging or comparing his views on religion with mine, he was neutral. He asked about some of the wording I had put (I’m not the best with wording things), my plans if everything was denied, my plans if something was approved , to provide another memorandum that shortened my request to 2 pages so if someone higher up read it they could get the gust of it and then look to the thick packet for any questions they had, and pictures of all the religious items, markings I want to put on my palm etc. So I added what he asked.

 

Fourth step- I continued working, pretty much giving up on anything be approved or what not, I had my mission so I focused on that. I was then informed of a new directive that the Army published (Army Directive 2017-3) which allowed Brigade Commanders more power in the decision, and allowed the wear of a religious bracelet without religious accommodation. I accepted this, it was something and I was happy if that was all it was. Something to note here is that when something is different -you will get asked about it, or someone will try to correct you thinking you’re wrong, it is important to remain calm, have tactfulness and know the regulation to explain to them while also being lenient to take off say an oath ring (bracelet) if you’re working on a vehicle. I got asked a lot why I was bearing a bracelet, what it meant (when I told someone that it was religious) what religion I was (having to summarize that it was “Viking” for some people who didn’t know what Norse meant let alone Asatru). One day the Brigade Commander saw me and stopped me, asking if I heard of the new directive and informing me that he pulled my packet from going up to the General while legal reviewed the directive to see what exactly he could approve now or deny and the process for things being approved/denied (before it was that if something was approved/denied it was sent all the way to the very top who then would review and approve/deny and that was the final say). As I was getting better at staff work and being a school NCO, I saw the Brigade Commander a lot more, and the CSM, along with a lot of people, me getting to know them and vice versa, and a lot of talking about Asatru as I was asked, and if your different, you will be asked a lot of things.

 

Fifth step- A few weeks ago I was informed I’d have an answer soon from the Brigade Commander, this honestly shocked me, I had, not forgotten about the accommodation nor given up on it, but kind of pushed it to the back of my list of things to think about. I had met with Commander a few times to talk about things, one such one being that I was in college looking at becoming a Chaplain and thus becoming an Officer aka joining the dark side. Fast forward to last Friday- I was called into the Brigade Commander’s office, along with my boss and the S3 Sergeant Major my other boss to be informed of his decision based on what he could do as legal had informed him and the regulations had stated, and what he felt was agreeable on or not agreeable on based on his research, my sincerity, the Army values and the research that I had placed in my packet.

 

He approved:

  1. The wear of an Oath Ring and Bracelet

  2. The marking of my palm with non-permanent ink while off duty, it had to be gone when I was on duty.

  3. The carry of a ceremonial weapon as long as it was 3 inches, not visible on the uniform, and legal on federal lands and buildings

  4. The wear of a beard up to two inches.

He denied:

  1. The blanket request to have alcohol in the field for ceremonies, I can have my religious items but must sub the mead for things such as juice or honey etc.

 

They all surprised me after all I was happy that I could wear my oath ring and that Asatru was finally a recognized religion, he further explained he approved these items because of how lenient I was in modifying my request and with working to meet a middle ground, and how the religion of Asatru kept in tradition with the Army values.

 

So where to go from there? Well I had to write a letter to him on what I accepted or wished to push higher up to change (I did not wish to change anything, I accepted his judgement). I also have to keep the memorandum on me at all times, why? Well because one of the first things you learn in the Army is that you must shave every day, everyone male and female, so if you don’t, you either have a profile stating that you can have facial hair up to a certain length as approved by a medical doctor. So, when asked why I had not shaved or why I had a beard, I have to explain I have a religious accommodation, and explain the situation, and present the memorandum.

 

I won’t send you the packet and my research, sorry but I firmly believe in, do for yourself because asking for help, but I will point you in right direction. Nor will TAC send a letter to your boss saying you must grow a beard- again this is not a tenant of the community, it is one though for my family/kindred and my path on Asatru.

 

I will say this though- I explained that Honor is a tenant of Asatru, being a warrior a larger tenant for my path and would choose the warriors path over all else, but that (and with a lot of research from lore, sagas and historical backing) a beard was a sign of honor and masculinity , that men with honor had beards and only those without honor did not have beards be them outlaws, rogues, captured warriors, slaves etc. , having honor questioned by being called a woman or not a man was a grave insult and how important that beard/hair care was in the 7th-11th century aka “The Viking Age” and as someone who tried to live a life as close to the ancestors way as I could , I requested an accommodation to policy for a beard and that was my religious path. As I explained in another post and will post under this one- there are many paths in Asatru, I generalized them into 5 groups that people follow and I was on number 4, if I could and when I retire from the military will move into group 5.

 

Is it a path that all will accept? No, Hel no. Do I care? A little depending on the person. Will there be other Asatru groups, troll pages, or even members of this group that do not approve? Yes, there will be and to those people/pages-good for you, I presented my case and judgement was passed. Will there be people saying that this is a weakening of the Army, or social justice infiltrating our ranks? Sure, there will be, and there will also be complaints for the ability of every person to be able to grow a beard, you can’t make everyone happy but you can follow your path and in doing so honor your ancestors, the Gods and your family. So, if your ever on Fort Leonard Wood and see a guy with a shaved head and red beard-its most likely me so feel free to stop and say Hi, we can share a bottle of mead and hold a blot together.

 

Austin Harasti

Vice President-The Asatru Community

 

-----Post from January 12th about 5 groups people can be on-----

 

Just a little information: TAC is a place where you can find other Asatru followers or even people who are here to learn about Norse history and culture and where you can learn and discuss in a civilized manner That isn't a problem on this page ,but you can take that to other areas as well .

With that being said: there are many people who are on different paths or on different parts of a path similar to yours. That's something that makes TAC great.

 

I'll discuss 4 different paths that I run across a lot and one that is hard to find ,as you read it keep in mind ,what ever group you think your in ,it can change and these are definite explanations of the group's, just the best way I found to describe them.

 

1: The people who are here to learn about and honor their Ancestors and the Norse culture. They may not believe in the Gods and that's okay ,they are here to learn and are needed to keep some of the other paths grounded to Midgard . They read the sagas and lore as stories that teach a morale story or were a part of history but not as fact. They may have come here due to the show Vikings or some other modern media outlet. This is cool and they are part of the community none the less.

 

2: The people who believe in the Gods and honor the ancestors while living a modern life without ceremonies or anything ,they go about life just believing and that is enough for them . A path where Asatru is more of a spirituality and not a religion . This is a more common path and these people tend to be very humble and are some of the best people I've met .Group 2 takes the Sagas and lore and analysis them and applies what they find acceptable in today's society to life

 

3: The people who participate in ceremonies or sometimes lead them . These people live a life where Asatru is a religion and their lives are two part, one where they are normal people living a life and the other part is that they are followers of Asatru . Asatru is incorporated into modern life with a good part of old world people. This is probably the most common path I see ,I like these people as they are strong in their beliefs but not to the point of trying to push it on other people. Group 3 takes the sagas and lore with a grain of salt.

 

4: These people go a step above #3, they live for Asatru , they are deeply involved with and grounded in Asatru . They tend to have jobs/careers but where they can they bring Asatru forward ,not just wearing Mjolnir but also living and loving the old ways. They learn the skills and apply them in life, they wear the clothing they live a life where it's split 50/50 with the modern world. I am one of these people and I love/hate these people. The good ones will talk endlessly about Asatru while accepting everyone's views or believes, the bad ones will be very rigid and judge people if their views differ in any way ,I can't stand that. To group 4 ,they take the Sagas and lore seriously and may go as far as living by them as a dogma. Their jobs/hobbies will reflect this. An example is a soldier in this group may want nothing else in life but to die in battle and may seek it when his / her time comes.

 

The 5th and rarest ones to find are a mix of all the group’s, but in the sense that some may be group 1 with a weekend being group 5. They are the group that have cast aside technology and modern life and live like an Amish version of Asatru, creating a small village on the land to live in, some do it for a weekend then go back to being in a different group. Some may do it for the rest of their lives or until old age and in a nursing home. The ones who do this for life are hard to find as they don't have technology to spread the word and may not accept outsiders along with being few in number already.

 

 

 

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