My journey to becoming a Heathen didn’t begin with a sign. It began with research. It began with trying to find a religious community that reflected my belief in the Norse goddesses and gods, and my values. There is a long and winding story here, but the main point is this – it never began with divine revelation or any kind of magical moment.
That was 2003. Since then, I have continued down this path. I’ve tried to be a good Heathen and challenged myself to grow and learn. I’ve served my community as a leader for over a decade. I’d like to fancy myself someone who has done all the right things.
Yet I have escaped the notice of the Gods.
I used to throw it off, because rejection sucks. I’d scoff at the idea and simply say those the gods notice is clearly meant for an interesting life, and I didn’t need that. I was content with a simple life. Self-delusion is powerful.
But when I heard the stories of those who have a personal calling from the divine, I started to feel a bit hollow, and questioned my place in the religion. Imposter syndrome leads to doubting my beliefs, and why anyone would ever dare listen to what I have to say.
But still I keep moving forward. I keep making my offerings, performing my rituals. I continue to lead my community, and I keep showing up. But those questions still linger in the back of my mind. Why not me? Why am I not good enough to have the favor or attention of the gods?
If you’ve never had the godphone ring, know you aren’t alone. It’s okay to feel confused, angry, and sad. It’s okay not to care. Most importantly, it doesn’t make you any less of a Heathen. So keep striving to be a better Heathen, and know that you are not alone.
I don’t owe you anything because we are both Heathen
This is likely the most important thing you will read today. This was written by my friend and all around hero, Destiny, the Gythia of Bifrost Way in Oklahoma. For years, her group has hosted the best Heathen event in the Midwest. She has always been a generous host, and frankly, put up with more shit than she should. Please just read her words, and consider them.
On being Heathen, my place among you, and boundaries:
What I like is the time to get to know people. To weigh interactions beyond seasonal gatherings or shared interests and beliefs. I need more than campfire chats and online interactions to call someone friend.
I need to see and experience mutual respect, integrity, and empathy consistently and across multiple situations.
People must also learn to be comfortable with not being a friend. Especially a beloved one. I do not have to wish ill upon a person or deem them unsavory to not be among those I call friend. Either we have not established those bonds, you are not worthy of those bonds, or I have decided within myself we are just fine with how we currently overlap.
And this is not simply because I will continue through my life to learn, set, and hold healthy boundaries. This is specifically about my being. My right to exist.
The people I call friend have demonstrated repeatedly that my dignity, safety, and value are more important than their politicking, privileged comforts, and social fun and niceties.
When speaking to a mentor recently, they helped me get to the root of my passionate anger concerning certain situations and people. Fear of rejection. Of othering and dismissal. Of direct and indirect harm.
Pain and anticipated grief that all my years, all my giving, and all my worth will be casually denigrated because of the color of my skin.
I have spent decades within the broader Heathen community and not once have I ever felt wholly accepted or safe. That taps at the root of my existence as a multi-ethnic Black person who is gender and sexually queer and committed to a new religious movement.
I have not been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. It has dropped and been picked up and polished too many times to count. Fresh in my mind’s eye are every instance where someone who hugged me, laughed with me, gifted me, and hosted me has undone those things in seconds by making clear that the hatred of my existence was acceptable. Even by proxy.
Imagine that always being the norm. The expectation and the confirmed reality. Imagine being told angrily and passive aggressively again and again that who you are as a simple human being was inconvenient and disruptive because you demand not be endangered or dehumanized.
I have said it before and I will say it again – I never have the option of shedding this skin. Really think about that the next time you feel exhausted or defensive when I posit a person’s humanity is non-negotiable.
This physical marker that incites such rage, sexualization, bias, exultation, and humiliation. I don’t get a break or time to reset. I cannot walk away from my body and I cannot camouflage it like other aspects of myself for any respite or protection.
So yes, I likely do not trust you. Few have given me reason to and many more have gleefully demonstrated I will always be a casualty to their comfort and need to be socially embraced.
I don’t need to cut large swaths of people from this space after this very draining and heartbreaking weekend. I already knew where most of you stood. You had already shown me when you laugh at racist jokes, call me hysterical or angry when I grieve being dehumanized, make light of rape and assault, casually deride the visibility of women, homosexuals and transgendered people, and left me to stand among wolves without a word of defense so you might enjoy something without the burden of your conscience.
We have co-existed this way for years upon years. With most of you at the boarders and not my friend. I see you. I have always seen you. So for me, little to nothing has changed.
I was challenged the other day by a Heathen in my community. He did not see the value in being a part of something like Pagan Pride. After all, Heathenry doesn’t have a lot in common theologically with general Neo-Paganism. I can’t argue that point. However, I think there is something fundamentally Heathen about being involved in interfaith groups, both in the Pagan community and in the wider community as a whole.
Let me take you back to the year 2014. The main organizers of Arkansas Pagan Pride were a church called Seeker’s Temple. They attempted to get approved for a variance for a church in their backyard garage. Their variance was approved until the mayor found out that the church was a Pagan church. At the same time, the church across the street began harassing the priestess and priest by shining a bright “lighthouse” light into their front windows, disturbing their children’s sleep.
Seeker’s Temple was a small group of about 20 people in a very Christian town. A town so Christian that this was the mayor’s campaign speech:
It is my opinion and the Beebe City Council’s that government leaders must pray to God as the true leader of the nation and that a nation cannot exist if they are not one nation under God trusting in God as the leader. It is my opinion government has allowed non-believers far too many liberties taking God out of our daily lives. As mayor of this city I will continue to open our meeting with a prayer and a pledge to our country – one nation under God.
Please remember in the coming November election for leaders of this nation to elect only those who will stand firm doing the will of God and not their will. If placing God or the simple mentioning of his holy name in this newsletter is offensive to some; so be it. I do not and will not apologize, ever, for giving him the praise he is due for all that he has done for our blessed country. Not now, not ever in the future, should we turn our backs to our creator.
When Seeker’s Temple went to the city council to ask the zoning ruling to be overturned, the place was packed, but not just with Christians. Pagans from all over came in support. Suddenly, the church of 20 had bloomed into over 100 pagans who showed up to support Seeker’s Temple in getting the same rights other 46 churches and nonprofits had in that city with the same zoning as his home.
For pictures and video of the amazing turnout, go here.
Many Heathen groups are at the point in their maturity that they are looking to buy land, and establish their own properties. If the same thing happens to you, who do you expect to come to your defense if you are not active in the Pagan community and the interfaith community at large? Who will come to your defense when your children are fighting for their rights as Heathens in public schools?
Being a minority religion is a challenge. We have to be willing to build community among other minority religions. This means showing up at not only Pagan Pride, but also other events where other minority religions need support. We need to make friends with liberal Christian sects who will come to our aid. We need to cultivate an army of allies who will stand up and say “No!” when our rights are threatened.
Are you doing interfaith work? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
This was originally posted on Heathen Talk
I am free because I am bound to a community. It almost seems contradictory. How can someone in modern society consider themselves free when they intentionally bind themselves to the good of others? This comes down to a clash of the Heathen worldview and the overculture’s ideals of how a person should live. The Heathen worldview is transgressive to modern society, but ultimately the most freeing.
Modern American culture has a focus on individualism. Modern literature and movies are driven by characters who pioneer on their own into uncharted territories. There is especially an emphasis on the western pioneer, who went out and created fortune from nothing but raw land and his own labor. Even though the facts of Western settlement and other pioneers are often skewed, as a society, we have a fascination with autonomy and individualism, and that fascination bleeds into our behavior and practice as Heathens.
Individualism is defined as “the doctrine that self-interest is the proper goal for all human actions,” by Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. To put it more plainly, individualism is “looking out for number one.” It is a focus on the self over the group, and the belief that personal achievement is more important than the good of the community. Writers on the subject of individualism such as Craig Biddle, in his 2012 essay, “Individualism vs. Collectivism,” believe that human beings are distinct, separate beings, who are not in any way metaphysically connected to one another. Quoting Frederick Douglas, “I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons… God created both, and made us separate beings.”
Many of the larger parts of American culture are built on individualism – unrestricted capitalism, protestant theology, and the idea of “pulling up your boot straps,” are but a few examples. There is a strong emphasis on the self, and rarely do you hear of the group. Very few people credit Apple for the iPhone or Microsoft for Windows – instead those are credited to a single individual such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.
In contrast, the Heathen worldview is that the group comes before the individual, because the individual only exist as part of the group. Therefore, one could argue that Heathenry is a form of collectivism. By this, I do not mean on a governmental level. Heathenry is not communism, but instead collectivism in the objectivist point of view, defined as “emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity,” by Merriam-Webster. Group interest is the goal of Heathen moral decisions. Within modern Heathen theology, there is no larger example of this than Frith. In Culture of the Teutons, Grøntech states in Chapter 1, “Thus the kinsmen proclaim their oneness of soul and body, and this reciprocal identity is the foundation on which society and the laws of society mast be based. In all relations between man and man, it is frith that is taken into account, not individuals.”
Modern Heathen author Ale Glad writes in his essay, “The Heathen Mind: Construction and Transgression”:
Heathenry is communal. In Culture of the Teutons, Grönbech discusses frith, kinship, and honor to great extent and one of the conclusions he draws about Heathen society is summed up best as “the man is the clan and the clan is the man.” We are at our truest when we are part of something and when we are invested in it. In fact, it is the man without a clan, without frith, that is no man in any meaningful way. This is partly because a man living without frith, without kin, is expelled from society and can build nothing. They will have no legacy. They transgress the borders of society, living like a wolf, and preying upon others. They are outlaw and not protected by the normal rules governing human interaction. They are without purposeful and meaningful existence and, where they intersect society, exist as a parasite. They steal what they can and give nothing back. They violate all the rules and upset the proper order of things.”
I believe that being an individual, unbound to community, is one of the hardest ways to live. The world is a cruel place, and nature, quite frankly, is trying to kill us all. In my neck of the woods, it’s only a matter of time before we experience a devastating earthquake. Tornados are common, and occasionally we even get a tropical storm if a hurricane blows up over south Texas. No matter who you are, where you are from, or what you believe, there is someone out there who wishes to harm you. This is not meant as doom and gloom, but simply a statement of fact.
Looking at modern culture, it is easy to see the price we have paid for this individualism. According to the United States Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making, 60% of households are three missed paychecks (or less) from losing their home. If faced with that situation, how many of those people have a community they can depend on to help them weather the storm? How many people are so isolated from community they don’t know how to ask for help?
In his book, “Quest for Community,” sociologist Robert Nisbet discusses the effects individualism has on society. He argues that the emancipation of the individual from local, meaningful communities has led to the rise of searching for belonging. When people begin searching for belonging, this search can often lead to predatory groups. I have experienced the recruiting tactics of radical, racialized groups that prey on the disaffected and lonely in my community. Predatory tactics are also used by cults and other less than savory groups to try to ensnare people to their beliefs or cause.
On the show, I have been very open about my struggles with mental illness. Anxiety is a monster that is always lurking in the back of my mind, and I can become consumed with worries. When I try to face these things alone, I fail, and this failure often leads to even more anxiety, which can spiral into an episode of panic and distress. There is a stigma around asking for help. I have found myself trying to take the weight of the world on my shoulders, and this has led to disaster personally and professionally. Eventually, I become so burdened that I implode, and neglect everything, to the detriment of myself and those around me.
When self-interest becomes my goal, rather than the community, I become destructive to my community. What is gained at the expense of my community is ultimately going to be at the expense of myself emotionally and spiritually as my actions diminish the bonds I have with my community. Without my community, I am the most wretched of creatures, alone and without a friend.
When I surround myself with community, including my family and my kindred, I feel at ease. Acting within my frith bonds gives a sense of peace, because I never shoulder any burden alone. It gives me hope, because I know I am working toward something greater than myself. When I am acting as a part and not an individual, I am constructively building the luck of my community, and that luck in turn rewards me when it is most needed. I am able to take risks I could have never taken before because my community is there to support me, and pick me up if I fall.
Embracing this worldview is not something every Heathen will do. There will be those who value their individualism over the Arch Heathen values of community and Frith. There are also those who have not embraced this facet due to ignorance about the beliefs of our religious ancestors. I was once in the latter position. My worldview continues to evolve daily. My sincerest wish is that every Heathen is able to experience the power of Frith and community, because it will profoundly change their life for the better.
This was originally published on Heathen Talk in 2016
When I got involved with the greater Heathen religious movement in the early 2000’s, Asatru was the preferred nomenclature for anyone who didn’t identify as Theodish belief. It didn’t matter if you were Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, or Icelandic, you were Asatru. I can only speculate as to why that was, but I strongly suspect a good deal of it was a lack of access to information. Many of us learned Heathenry from the Eddas, the Sagas, and bad Victorian scholarship.
As the years have passed, there has started to be somewhat of a divide in the community. On one path are those who identify under the banner of Heathen, who actively engage in trying to understand not just who or how the Arch Heathens worshiped, but how they thought and why these practices were meaningful. On the other path are those who identify under the banner of Asatru, who are more interested in grafting a branch of Norse belief onto the modern Wiccan influenced Neo-Pagan movement, including the trappings of that movement.
There is a very key difference that I believe separates the two of these paths, and that is the view of the individual. The reconstruction path takes the view that the individual is an expression and a representation of the tribe. Therefore, whatever the individual does, it is not for themselves, but for the good (or ill) of the tribe. If someone engages in activities to improve themselves, they are not just improving themselves, but affecting their kin as a whole. The more Neo-Pagan influenced path is focused on the self, and sees each person as an individual. Self-improvement in this case would be for the self.
This difference expresses itself into how the divine is approached. When the reconstructionist approaches the divine, he does so with his tribe, or at least representing his tribe. When the Neo-Pagan approaches the divine, they do so on a more personal level. Therefore, the way we do ritual, even if we are doing the same physical actions and saying the same words is profoundly different. It also can cause many arguments when there is a discussion about “solo ritual.” There are no solitary Heathens in the reconstructionist mindset. Everyone has tribe by the sheer fact they were born into a family, they live in a community, and they interact with others on a daily basis. One can be a solitary Neo-Pagan.
There is a last area of divide in the road, and that has to do with how we see the world. The reconstructionist mindset tends to be very world accepting. Rarely do you hear the reconstructionist talk about dying with honor or going to Valhalla. Life is taken on life’s terms, with the understanding that the purpose of life is to create luck for your kin. There is no need to be “called by Odin” or other such special favor of the gods. In more Neo-Pagan circles, the opposite is true, and there is an expectation of having a patron deity that takes an active, personal interest in your life.
When I first joined this movement, I fell into the first camp. I had 20 years of living a worldview that is focused on the individual and not the tribe. It took me another ten to finally understand what it means to be Heathen, to live in a state of frith and feel the awe inspiring power of my ancestors. I have come to find that the approach offered by Neo-Pagan and New Age inspired paths doesn’t offer me the same things.
Asatru has become the Neo-Pagan path. Heathenry has become the reconstructionist paths. Once we all walked together down road that was neglected and rarely used. This was meaningful and helped Heathenry grow into what we are now. However, the path is splitting, and it is time to say goodbye to Asatru. Your beliefs are not mine, your worship is not mine, and I no longer wish to be seen as a part of your system of belief. I no longer want groups who claim the title Asatru to control the public dialogue about who my kindred is and how the greater public perceives us.
Goodbye Asatru. You served your purpose in my life. However, we’ve grown apart. It’s you, not me.
Here is the power point I presented last weekend at the Conference of Heathen Women. It shows why Heathens should be concerned about how the media portrays us and how we can counter the narrative.
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I think the most frequently asked question that comes along in almost every Heathen forum is to “did I receive a sign from (fill in the blank?)” It’s the question that is the most difficult to answer. While historically, almost every religion has some sort of belief in signs from the other, it is very hard for a stranger to interpret if something is a sign and what that sign means.
Even in Christian culture, signs are often interpreted by those who receive it. Growing up, a local woman believed she had received a sign from God after the death of her husband when a cross appeared when her window cracked. She interpreted it as a sign her husband had gone to Heaven, and this was the interpretation that was accepted as truth in the community.
Heathenry tends to be more conservative than the evangelical community I grew up in when it comes to signs and messages from the other, and for good reason. In my experience, signs from the gods can become a contest when you get a group of modern pagans together. Spiritual competitiveness is a remnant of evangelical culture, where people want to see who can be the most emotionally moved by the spirit.
But that doesn’t answer the question – did you receive a sign from the gods? The only way I can answer this question is with a series of questions so that the person who thinks they might have received some sort of sign or portended from the divine can critically examine the experience and decide for themselves. I call it the MICE test.
Is the possible sign:
Meaningful? Is it about something that matters?
Interpretable? Do I have some idea of what this means?
Congruent with what I know about the being in question?
Extraordinary? Is this something that is outside of the mundane and every day?
This isn’t by any means a foolproof test, but it is a good place to start when it comes to making a critical examination of an experience. If you are still confused, concerned, or otherwise feel unsettled, talk it over with a trusted friend. I would advise you not to share it with anyone you don’t know well, because I find it lessens the impact if it really is some sort of divine experience.
At the end of the day, the only person who can decide if something is a communication from the divine is exactly that, because the message, if it is a message, is meant for you and not the populace as a whole.
The word reputation gets tossed about quite frequently in Heathen circles, and for good reason. As a prestige culture, reputation matters more than it does to your average American. A person’s reputation, or lack thereof, is going to influence your ability to move in Heathen circles, and how you will be received. It’s one of the most basic currencies we have.
What is reputation? The simplest definition is how others perceive you. The key in reputation is the opinion of others that comes from your perceived thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Your reputation may not reflect your actual beliefs, thoughts, or intentions behind your actions. It is based solely on how others see you and your life. Actions are the foundation of reputation. Thoughts and values are not often something you express on a constant and widespread basis, so what you do forms most of the opinion others have of you. Let’s use Vince the Viking as an example.
Vince loves to go to his local pubmoot, but he is always twenty to thirty minutes late. You can almost set your watch by it. Ingrid gets frustrated because Vince is never on time. She starts telling Vince that the event is starting 30 minutes earlier than the actual start time. She also won’t allow Vince to host the event when she goes on vacation, because she is afraid he won’t be there.
There is a very logical excuse for Vince being late. His wife gets off work half an hour before the event, and because their second car has broken down, Vince must take his wife home before he can come. However, Vince has never expressed to anyone at the event that he is late due to transportation issues. If Ingrid had known, she would have offered to start the event 30 minutes later or offered to pick Vince up so he can let his wife use the car, but since Vince never communicated the issue, his reputation is bad when it comes to punctuality.
Reputation can be built even if you never actually interact with someone. What you post online on social media is a huge source of reputation. Businesses are now checking potential employee’s social media before hiring them. My husband is a cantankerous person online. However, face to face, he would never have the same arguments he does on Facebook. However, to someone who has never met him and shared a meal or a game, he’s a jerk if you look only at his interactions on Facebook.
The final source of reputation I am going to address is who you know. If I know you are friends with someone I respect, that speaks to your reputation. My kindred brother is a big-name Heathen author. I can often get into spaces that might not be accessible to me based on his reputation. It opens doors for interviews and other opportunities to network that my name alone never could.
Reputation matters, and it matters even more in the Heathen community. The Havamal speaks that the only thing that matters after one dies is their reputation.
At home shall a man be merry
And cheerful to his guests,
Cautious about himself,
Of good memory and ready speech,
If he wants to be very wise;
A good man is often talked of;
A great fool is he called
Who little can tell;
That is the mark of a fool.
Geirrid settled in Borgardal, inside Alpta fjord. She caused her house to be built across the high road so that all were obliged to ride through it. A table set with food, which was given to every one who wanted it, always stood ready. Owing to this she was looked on as a high-minded woman.
~ Eyrbrygga Saga
What kind of reputation should we be cultivating? Just from the above quotes, we can glean a few characteristics that make up what would have been a good person to the Arch Heathens. Those include hospitable, intelligent, cautious, wise, and generous. These are all traits that I strive to embody in my life. I often fall short, but reputation is rarely static. It can be changed through a concerted effort.
Making the change sounds simple on the surface, but is difficult because it involves making significant changes to behavior over time. There are three basic steps. The first is to make a significant change in your behavior. The second is to demonstrate that change to people who matter, and the final is recognizing building or changing reputation takes time. Changing behaviors and beliefs is a difficult process. I have found that I needed outside, professional help to change some of my behaviors.
I want my reputation legacy to be of someone who is generous, wise, and intelligent. What do you want your legacy to be?
The ignorant booby had best be silent
When he moves among other men,
No one will know what a nit-wit he is
Until he begins to talk;
No one knows less what a nit-wit he is
Than the man who talks too much.
Recently, a Heathen website posted an article stating that the Asatru Folk Assembly is under investigation by Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) as being a hate group. This report spread like wildfire across the Heathen internet. This lead to other rumors circulating, including that AFA members were banned from certain events, AFA members would be kicked out of the military, and that AFA chaplains would lose access to military bases. The constant churning of social media took what was already just hearsay and turned it into a certain and finite event.
I am ashamed to admit I bought in to this rumor, after hearing it from a trusted friend. However, as of this writing, there is not a single other source for this information other than the original website. There has not been a publication by the US Military, and the AFA has not come out on their official site or their Facebook and issued any public statement. Major Pagan news outlets like The Wild Hunt have had zero coverage.
This story has taken on a life of its own beyond the initial website because true or not, it touches a nerve. It places both sides in a position where this post appeals to feelings. For those who dislike the AFA, they feel vindicated that a group they see as hateful is losing power. For those who support the AFA, this is proof of their belief that society is too “politically correct” and they are being persecuted for their beliefs.
In modern society, we all often struggle to differentiate “fake news” from reality. There is a great deal of pressure from content providers to make money. Most of this income is from what are called “impressions” or how many times an advertisement is seen. Most companies pay in what is known as PPM or per 1000 impressions. The more eyes that are on your website, the more money you make.
When there is a need to create fresh content to drive those views, journalism can fall by the wayside. Rumor is all many websites need to take a piece of information and turn it into an article. Even the largest mainstream news organizations frequently turn stories so fast that they make mistakes that would not otherwise be made if they had taken the time to confirm the information. Rarely is breaking news, especially in a small niche market such as Heathen news, so urgent it cannot wait until more conclusive facts have emerged.
Stories about the AFA are a hot ticket, and they generate traffic from both those who strongly disagree and agree with their political beliefs. I personally find the AFA and their positions abhorrent. I also believe that I should be building a reputation not as a gossip and that truth is the greatest weapon that one can wield in the face of bigotry.
So how do we spot fake news? This infographic from Factcheck.org is helpful in explaining how to tell truth from fiction.
As a reputation based religion, we need to make sure the information we pass on is correct, so we do not damage others reputations (and our own) with rumors and falsehoods. This means getting all the facts before we move forward.