It is a crisp Saturday evening, and a group of Heathens have gathered in the park, preparing for blot and sumble. The altar is laid out beautifully, and folks are milling about waiting for things to get started. A newer person to the group named Denise looks a bit tense. She has been to a few meetups, but this is her first ritual with the group. She slowly makes her way over to Kel, the person organizing the ritual.
“Hey, Kel,” she says softly, feeling embarrassed, “Is there going to be a … you know… dry horn?”
Before Kel can answer, the loud booming voice of Josh is heard laughing. “Dry horn? We’re HEATHENS! A dry horn is an insult to the gods!”
As a new person and a new Heathen, Denise does not really know how to respond. Clearly these folks know more than she does. If drinking is required to be Heathen, then this might not be the religion for her, despite the deep calling she feels. She has been sober for 4 years, and the idea of going back to drinking terrifies her.
While the above isn’t a true story, it is an amalgamation of events I have witnessed and stories I haveheard from other Heathens who struggle with addiction. As Heathenry struggles with what it really means to be an inclusive religion, one thing that we all must consider that to be truly inclusive, we must respect and include the sober Heathen, because not only is addiction an issue many Heathens battle, it also intersects with other areas we often fail when it comes to inclusive action: mental health, the LBGTQIA+ community, and the BIPOC community.
This could become a novel if I dove into all the reasons why these communities are disproportionately affected by addiction, so instead I will just cite the National Institute on Drug Abuse Study that dives much deeper into this. The purpose here is to demonstrate that inclusive, queer affirming, anti-racist, and ability accommodating Heathenry must embrace Sober Heathenry. To do otherwise is to potentially contribute to what can already feel like a potentially hostile environment to many marginalized people.
What does this look like on a practical level? This means offering a dry horn, or even dry rituals. It means holding events somewhere other than bars and pubs on occasion. It means also fighting the latent toxic drinking culture that can creep up on anyone, and lead to incredibly embarrassing episodes at moots and festivals. It also means not asking questions, making jokes, or otherwise making a big deal about someone else’s choices to drink or not.
The Havamal talks a great deal about the dangers of drinking too much. I feel we can all heed this wisdom as we work together to help fully embrace all who come to worship the gods.
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.