Why I Am Not an Heathen (Though I Kind of Wish That I Could Be)

This (long) post has been a long time coming.  I’ve referenced my feelings about personal background and development in some other articles and have been spending a lot of time trying to explore myself in relation to the modern Pagan movement and Heathenry.  Although the title was inspired by Bertrand Russel’s piece “Why I am Not A Christian” I won’t, as he does, seek to deconstruct the idea of a particular deity.  I will, as he does, explain why the values expressed in the religion in question do not fit mine, and why that leaves me in a difficult place.

Let me begin by explaining that I’ve had a love for the Aesir and Vanir since childhood.  I first read of them in children’s fiction when I was four or five and rapidly advanced to reading more adult storybooks about them.  Later on I discovered source material like the Eddas and Sagas and buried myself in them.  I love the tales and I love the Gods.  However, I cannot love the Gods within the same framework that so many others do as in many ways it (in the words of Walt Whitman) insults my soul.

Havamal

When speaking to Heathens about where they derive the virtues that they form their community on, Havamal inevitably arises as the primary source.  While I cannot (and do not) argue with the value of the Nine Noble Virtues, I have irreconcilable differences with some of the source material.

It starts with the misogyny.  Hearing Har proclaim that “The speech of a maiden should no man trust, nor the words which a woman says, for their hearts were shaped on a whirling wheel and falsehood fixed in their breasts.” (83), and having “women’s bed-talk” and “witch’s flattery” being included in the list of things that none should trust scored me sorely.  I’m a woman of integrity and honor, and sweeping statements about my sex do no credit to my many sisters that stand by their words and honor their oaths and debts.

While we’re on the matter of integrity, allow me to raise this verse: “But hast thou one whom thou trustest ill
yet from whom thou cravest good?  Thou shalt speak him fair, but falsely think, and leasing pay for a lie.”  For some, this may be honor.  The other has breached honor and integrity, after all, both should be allowed to do it.

I can’t sit by this myself.  Whether or not another has been untrustworthy with you, I still consider if false to be false to them.  I know that the Allfather isn’t always known for fair dealings himself, and I take that into account when I read this.  However, I cannot use a philosophy like that as a basis for my own ethical beliefs.

Likewise, there are many verses that caution people against being too trusting.  While I understand them (having been a person who has trusted the wrong sorts of people in the past) they also feel paranoid.  I can’t base my behavior around a document that tells me not to trust people; trust builds trust and integrity builds integrity.

I love Havamal, and much of the advice found within is timeless and sound.  The tale of Odhinn and the runes makes my hair stand on end whenever it is recited (especially when recited in Norse).  However, I feel that that advice should be considered on a case-by-base basis, and not necessarily used as a be-all-end-all guide to human behavior and social interaction.  I think that that emphasis helps to account for the undercurrents of misogyny and xenophobia that I have encountered in Asatru and Heathenry – if devotion to Har’s sayings is unquestioned, the environment that is created will attract many sorts of people that I find questionable.

Dismissal of UPG

There are several problems that can arise from lack of grounding in lore in any polytheist tradition.  It is possible to think that you are honoring the Gods with ancient practices that turn out to be not so ancient.  It’s possible to be mislead by spirits and entities that may claim the identity or name of a deity to gain your attention or trust, and a grounding in the lore helps with discernment in the identification of wights that you deal with.  It’s even possible to look like a complete idiot in the face of scholars (Pagan and otherwise) who know better than you and can fill in the blanks while you trip over words trying to explain or discuss aspects of your faith.

I never met Snorri Sturluson (at least, not that I remember).  I can say that the window that he has provided us into the beliefs and poems of his time are invaluable.  I know that without him countless deities and tales would be forgotten, and as a storyteller and a Pagan I suppose that that makes him something of a hero of mine.

However, I don’t know him.  I don’t know the measure of his worth as a person, I haven’t seen his integrity in action, and I don’t know entirely why he did what he did.  What I do know is that even as a teenager reading the Eddas I recognized Christian influence in the tales, occasionally in a rather heavy-handed way.  I do know that Snorri made some odd claims about the ancestry of the Gods, and I do not agree with his suggestion that all deities were once human heroes.

The fact is, his work, and the Sagas we’ve kept in other ways, and hearsay are all we have to inform us of how people at the time when they were first written down felt about the Gods, and what they knew about the Gods, and what they did about those feelings.  Without this work reconstructionists wouldn’t have made it as far as they have.

I believe that the Eddas and the Sagas should be the first word, but not necessarily the last, and certainly not the most important.  The world that we live in is radically different from the world that those who recorded these things lived in.  We see it through different eyes, hear it through different ears, and filter it through different brains.

Yet some of us feel the call of the Gods and spirits from across whatever barrier of perception or dimension or both separates us.  Among those there are folks like myself, who find that the practices that have been reconstructed do not work as well for us as other techniques that we’ve learned or practiced, or who wish to supplement their practices.

Heathenry involves a degree of cultural reconstruction as well, and the awesomeness of Viking apron dresses aside, there are aspects to reconstructed Heathen culture that don’t fit with every person who honors the Aesir and Vanir.  There are those who don’t feel that we need to revisit age-old mores to create good relationships with the Gods.  There are even those like myself that feel that Gods might be okay with not being honored within a certain cultural context; that they might even care far less about human culture than we do.

I have been and perhaps still am a witch and a seeress and a priestess.  I know many others who fit into those and similar categories.  If I trust the person as a person I will tend to trust their words when speaking about their experiences with the Gods, the Wights, and the Ancestors.  I know that sometimes even honorable people lie, and that sometimes everyone is wrong, especially when feeling for signals from the spirits.

At the same time, if I am to truly believe in the Gods as real beings who really can communicate with us, I cannot ignore the gnosis of my fellow priestesses, seeresses, and spirit workers.  “UPG” or “Unverifiable Personal Gnosis” is often used interchangeably with “MUS” or “Made Up Shit” in modern Heathen discussion and dismissed out of hand.  Even when it is not it is treated with quite a bit of suspicion.

Like the layers of a pearl that form around an irritant, so do religions form around spiritual experiences.  Somewhere along the line, someone called that redgold Goddess “Freyja” for the first time.  Someone heard her voice, felt her presence, and decided to name her “Lady.”  Without that time-lost incident we also would not have the faith we had today, nor would Snorri and others have been able to write record what they had.

All religion starts with gnosis, both personal and shared.  Though the lore states nowhere that Freyja likes chocolate, I’ll challenge you to find a Freyjaswoman or Freyjasman who would argue that it’s not a worthy offering for her.  If someone said something confusing like “Freyja likes being offered bug spray.” I might be skeptical, but if many voices devoted to her spoke up for her love of pesticides I’d have to practice my own discernment and divination on the matter and see if that was part of my relationship with her.

At what point does “UPG” pass the threshold into accepted belief?   In a community where personal spiritual experiences of living worshipers are never considered to be of equal worth to the writings of those long gone, how can our understanding of the Gods evolve?  As our understanding of the physical universe and social realities of humankind evolve, so should our spiritual understanding and awareness.  Chaining this to modern interpretations of static words will put us into the same trap of stagnancy, corruption, and materialism as many other religions.

Rejection of Neopaganism

This takes many flavors and comes about for many reasons, but the majority of Heathens that I’ve spoken with do not consider Heathenry to be part of neopaganism.  Some claim that it is not a new religion, that it is an unbroken tradition (which I cannot answer to but I am always suspicious of those claims).  Some feel that the Gods and Ancestors are dishonored by association with deities and practices of other pantheons and cultures (regular readers know how I feel about that one).  Some claim that Heathenry is different enough in values and practice that Heathens don’t fit in to big umbrella Paganism.

I could take on any one of these individual points, and I understand the arguments both for and against them.  Personally, however, I do identify with the Neopagan community, because there are a great many within it that love the Aesir and the Vanir, the Landwights, Elves and Ancestors.  Our practices may be different, and our individual -theism or lack thereof may cause disagreements, but we all seek to revere the Gods dear to our hearts.  I would rather be exposed to a wide variety of practices and experiences with the Gods that I love, than to be in a strictly formulaic practice that allows no deviation.

The vitriol I’ve seen directed at those who identify as Pagan by those who identify as Heathen is excessive and shows a lack of willingness to assume good will or intent.  The fact that being called “Wiccatru” (a label I’ve seen applied to modern Heathen leaders and scholars who have a mystical or spiritual bent in practice) is considered an acceptable way to dismiss someone’s scholarship and practice brings me sorrow, as the many Pagan paths have quite a bit to teach one another.

Disregard for the Spiritual

As one of the God-bothered, a person who has always had experiences with spirits, I can’t reject or turn away from spiritual realities.  I’ve always lurked about and taken part in religions to help me find useful frameworks and techniques to deal with and make good use of my experiences.  Many of those experiences happen to be with the Aesir and Vanir and associated wights.

Thus it always baffles me when I encounter people who seem very devoted to religion or at least to religious identity but who mock spiritual experiences.  You know, the folks who claim that the runes were never used for magic (haven’t you read Sigridfumal?) or feel that the Gods don’t care about us or wish to interact with us personally (Ottar in the Lay of Hyndla?).  I’ve seen this in the Episcopalianism and Islam of my youth, and I’ve seen it in the Heathenry of my adulthood.  It’s a cultural attitude whose origins I am uncertain of but seems uncharacteristic of the people whose faith we’re trying to reconstruct or build on.  The sagas are full of tales of magick and seers and vitki and ghosts and spirits and Gods.  Why is it acceptable in our tales but not in our lives?

I’ve been told by at least one Heathen that Heathenry is an excuse to get drunk and dress like Vikings (and had pretty much the same words said by others).  If I wanted to get drunk and dress like a Viking I would not come up with such an elaborate excuse; I would have a Get Drunk And Dress Like A Viking Party.  I wouldn’t put work into reading lore.  I sure as anything wouldn’t be making offerings if I didn’t believe that anyone was on the receiving end.  I want a living faith that honors and builds relationships with the Gods and Spirits that I love dearly, not a frat party.

Community Focus (or Solitary Exclusionary)

Time and time again, it has been emphasized to me that Heathenry is community oriented, that without a community there is no purpose to it, that’s it’s not genuine, that’s it’s not right.

How nice for you.

Really, though, it’s nice to have community.  It’s affirming and validating and helpful when you have other people going through the same things with you.  It’s good to have people to be there for you through all of life’s transitions and vicissitudes.

However, not everyone can find communities that they fit into.  I struggle with both the Pagan and larger world community because of my trans status.  I struggle with the trans community because I have a religion that isn’t watered down non-spiritual Christianity or nihilistic modern American Buddhism.  I have to carve niches for myself wherever I go, and sometimes I don’t have that option.  I’m not alone in that, either.  There are a lot of people who, for reasons above or others (including the paucity of available Heathen communities in general) can’t find a Kindred or Hearth to belong to.

So when you don’t have a Kindred should you stop honoring the Ancestors and the wights and the Gods?  Should you just give them the shove and stop calling yourself Heathen because you don’t have a community?  “Well, I was Heathen but my Kindred broke up, so I’m an atheist until I can find another one.  No, following another religious tradition would be ‘drinking from someone elses’ well’, so I can’t do that either.  Just have to wait for another Kindred to form or form a new one before I can be a Heathen again.”

Which brings me to:

Folkish, Tribalist, Racialist, and other words that are used to say, “I’m not racist but…”

You know the story – your spiritual ancestry is carried in your DNA.  Only those whose blood is pure will receive blessing from the Norse Gods.  Only those of Pure European Heritage With Ancestors Who Were Never From Anywhere Else Ever Can Venerate Them.  Also, if you’re from Northern Europe, you shouldn’t pay any attention to any Gods or Spirits that aren’t in the Eddas or Sagas, because that’s “drinking from anothers’ well”.  You have different DNA, and that means that you are totally spiritually incompatible.  They either aren’t reaching out to you, or they are because they want to corrupt you, because foreign things are evil.

After all, the many races of the world are like instruments in an orchestra.  Each musician plays their own instruments; if you try and play the wrong instrument for you, all that will come out is a horrible sound and it will totally screw up the orchestra.  Also, unlike in the orchestra analogy, you can never learn to use an instrument that you are not designated to play at birth by skin color and last name on your birth certificate.

Godhi, please.

The concept of race is a dead one and should stay that way.  The idea that humans have distinct and pure bloodlines breaks down really quickly once you study any one person’s genealogy going back more than a century or so.  Throughout history, people have traveled, met other people, made war or trade with them, and whether it was war or trade also made babies with them.

There are ethnic enclaves that have been geographically isolated for long periods of time (like Tibet was up til around the 1950’s) where it could be argued that “pure” lineages developed.  Their ancestors still came from elsewhere, though.  As a Voudoun priestess once said to me, “It’s okay if you’re white; we all come from Africa, baby.”

I’ve studied my family genealogy.  This fat white girl from suburban America has black and native ancestors within the last two hundred years, and was raised by an Egyptian stepfather in an ethnically-mixed household.  I tan dark enough to look Italian in the summer (if you’re going to go by something as lame as skin color) – I know people from North Africa and the Levant who are paler than me.  I was raised on a combination of hummus, ta’amayah and the Qur’an on one side and white guilt, Tolkein, and liberal Episcopalianism on the other side.  Tell me, what faith do my genes or upbringing want me to follow?

I think that the Gods and spirits care far less about human culture and bloodlines than we do.  I think that they favor who they choose to favor, regardless of their ethnic or genetic background.  These beliefs come from observation and experience, both mine and those of folks who I know.  I’ve had a Kemetic Goddess (who I worship mostly in Her Greco-Roman aspects) tell me in a Norse oracular rite to join an organization that bills itself as Druidic.

As such, I can’t be okay with “racialism”, “folkishness” or “tribalism”.  I’m an educated person of my time who knows that no blood is unmixed, who knows that no “race” is pure or even really exists, and who has enough of a mixed background that were I to limit my spiritual practices only to one tradition I would be leaving out other, important things.

When I formally approached The Ancestors, my Ancestors, as a whole for the first time and asked them what they wanted me to know, I was taken out of myself, or rather back through myself.  I followed and spread out through endless lives like branching worm casts, spreading more and more until I couldn’t count or even pay attention to the details that were passing by me.  All life is my ancestry, every being who has lived has contributed to who I am today.  It’s the same for you, dear reader.  They are all part of you.

However, taking issue with folkishness (aka Heathen racism) is somehow naughty because Frith.  Because we should all be peaceful and safe with one another and trust one another.  Because we need to reach across the aisle and embrace all Heathens, regardless of what they believe.

This mutt, this mud-blooded, racially mixed lover of the Vanir and Aesir has no inclination to do so.  I’ll not share a space with those who discount me, or would discount my sisters or any of my family or loved ones because of their ancestry.  I’ll not drink with those who wouldn’t drink with me (or would because my skin is pale, but wouldn’t with my little sisters because theirs is not).  I’m also not going to pretend that I don’t have a problem with it, or that I think that pandering to folkish beliefs is in any way acceptable to me.  But, because people are afraid to stand up to their own beliefs and cover cowardice with Frith and make peace with people who would take our Gods away because of our ancestry (if they could) I don’t fit with any but the most stringently liberal of the Universalist/Folkish divide.

Not to mention the queer and trans thing.  That doesn’t go over too well either.

So where do I go from here?  What options does this non-Heathen have?  What space is there for a polytheist who wants to honor the Vanir and Aesir (and maybe a couple of the friendlier Jotnar like Gerda and Skadhi) but can’t abide many things that grate upon her in popular Heathen culture?  Stay tuned; my next post is going to explore all of the options that I’ve found and considered.

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54 thoughts on “Why I Am Not an Heathen (Though I Kind of Wish That I Could Be)

  1. Hello Laine! I hope you are doing well!

    I’m saddened after reading this post, but then again my heart always shatters into countless little pieces when I read, hear, or see someone explain their reasons for having to toss the term heathen right out the window, sharing all the things that brought them to such a decision. It makes me angry at all the people who twist, corrupt, take advantage of, and everything else so horrid under the sun to our faith.

    My mind is running a million miles a second with all the thoughts and feelings reading this post has brought up to the surface. I really want to respond to this at some point.

    All I want to say right now is I’m a heathen who hates what people do to our faith. I’m a heathen who is proud of my ancestry and loathes the racial tendancies of some of the more vocal bad apples in the faith. I’m a heathen who stands up against such atrocities whenever I come face to face with it and have been shunned from certain gatherings because of it. I’m a heathen who is saddened by the racial taint that has been smeared upon terms that denote folk and tribe because to me folk and tribe are the people that you care about. They are people you would do anything and everything in your power to help them out in the best of times or the worst of times! They aren’t defined by race and ancestry, though many of them might share similar ancestry. It should be people that you have made experiences with. I’m a heathen who would share a horn with anyone with character and convictions I can respect, and wants to hail our gods. I’m a heathen who would and does indeed open my spaces to anyone who would honestly want to honnor and venerate our gods, regardless of race, sexuality, etc.

    I could go on but I’ll save my rant for another day.

    I have tears in my eyes whenever this sort of thing comes up and while it breaks my heart whenever I run into someone who doesn’t feel at home within “heathenry”, I can understand why.

    As always, Laine, thank you for sharing something so deep and thought provoking. I always enjoy reading what you post.
    Rob

    Liked by 6 people

    • You’re welcome, Rob, and thank you for the kind words.

      There are a lot of good people who are Heathens. I’ve met plenty of Heathens who don’t fit what I’ve described above – but I’ve also met enough that are otherwise (and yes, especially online, but that’s where people interact most nowadays except at rites and conventions.) Some of my issues are genuinely issues, and some are just incompatibilities (like the whole ethics and attitude thing). That’s why I’m trying to shift towards other groups and traditions that still meet the same needs without the same culture.

      Thank you again, Rob!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Flight of the Hamsa and commented:
    Excellent piece. Reliance on “The Lore” reminds me strongly of sola scriptura approaches to Christianity, and I’ve seen all too many times the stifling of individuals whose voices “deviate” even slightly from “orthodoxy.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m not Heathen because I’ve never had anything other than an academic interest in its ancient cultures or mythology…but I’ve known too many Heathens like those you mention here, and a goodly number that feel as you do. I have a couple places where I plan to share this!

    I also wanted to say that this is the most wonderful descriptions of ancestry that I’ve heard yet:

    “When I formally approached The Ancestors, my Ancestors, as a whole for the first time and asked them what they wanted me to know, I was taken out of myself, or rather back through myself. I followed and spread out through endless lives like branching worm casts, spreading more and more until I couldn’t count or even pay attention to the details that were passing by me. All life is my ancestry, every being who has lived has contributed to who I am today. It’s the same for you, dear reader. They are all part of you.”

    …If you don’t mind, I’ll be quoting you soon (and linking, of course)!!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Excellent post! There’s not much in there I would shake my head at. I had and still have many of the same problems with corners of the Heathen world. It’s painful to see so many who just want to rub one out in viking roleplaying religion. As if the Vikings were the end all be all of Heathen history. I’m disgusted with the racism. No excuse for it. None. I’m still Heathen anyway. Chaos Heathen if you want the down and dirty truth. I practice sorcery, runes, read tarot, meditate, hypnosis, explore Seidh, and do whatever the hell I want. There’s so much magic, seership, adventure, spirits, ghosts, monsters and more in the lore. Even more yet in the folktales that passed through the centuries. So I don’t fit in with some tribes. I don’t care. That’s their loss. I’m not tying up my wyrd with bigots, and lore thumping assholes.

    Be well, my friend!

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Excellent post! There’s not much in there I would shake my head at. I had and still have many of the same problems with corners of the Heathen world. It’s painful to see so many who just want to rub one out in viking roleplaying religion. As if the Vikings were the end all be all of Heathen history. I’m disgusted with the racism. No excuse for it. None. I’m still Heathen anyway. Chaos Heathen if you want the down and dirty truth. I practice sorcery, runes, read tarot, meditate, hypnosis, explore Seidh, and do whatever the hell I want. There’s so much magic, seership, adventure, spirits, ghosts, monsters and more in the lore. Even more yet in the folktales that passed through the centuries. So I don’t fit in with some tribes. I don’t care. That’s their loss. I’m not tying up my wyrd with bigots, and lore thumping assholes.

    Be well, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very good post. I identify as a Heathen myself as I have many similar issues with the words Pagan or Neo-Pagan. Many of the issues you seem to have simply are not issues for me For example. I do not place much emphasis on the Havamal since I am Anglo-Saxon Heathen. Many others do not. The same is true of spirituality. Many Heathens I know are very spiritual with regular ritual practice, prayers, and so forth, and consider those that use Heathenry as an excuse to get drunk and play Viking as not Heathen. I do know where you are coming from though. However, those folks that use Heathenry as an excuse to party do not make up the whole of Heathenry. What you say about UPG is for the most part true. Many in Heathenry disregard it. However, that is changing slowly. More folk are beginning to accept UPG if there is some sort of consensus. For example, no where in the lore does it say Frigga spins the threads the Norns use to weave Wyrd. But many have accepted that as true. One issue I do have with this post is that Tribalism does not equal Folkism or Racialism. The idea of the Tribalism is the tribe decides who is a part of it. In other words, if a tribe wants to admit non-Northern Europeans, they can. I know the group I am a part of does. Now there may be groups that try to use Tribalism as an excuse to be racist, but they are in truth Racialists and not Tribalists and are by far in the minority,.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dear Pagan Church Lady,

      If you were to ask me for my advice, which I realize you didn’t, I think I would start by saying stop worrying so much; stop being such a fussbudget. I don’t know anything about being trans or queer, so can’t speak to those sensibilities, but I can say that it can be a big mistake to listen to the Heathen peanut gallery and just form your opinions accordingly. Modern retroheathenry is a millennial religion and, in many ways is, accordingly, a new religion, still in its early going, meaning that it will be ideologically incoherent and bound to attract an above average number of misfits. Nobody reads the eddas, or Asatru for Beginners or whatever, and instantly becomes centered or wise. In fact, many read this sort of stuff for the rest of their lives and never become wise or get it at all. By all means do judge heathenry on its fruits, but all its fruits, not just its windfalls. The proper object of contemplation in heathenry is not the heathen people so much as the heathen gods.

      Do not get hypnotized by the things that other people, heathen or anybody else, may say to or about you, at least until you can be sure of what crypto-agendas they may be bringing to the discussion. If somebody wants to know whether you are a racist, for instance, be sure to ask why they want to know. Many inferior types with ulterior motives will use buzzwords of this type to take control of a discussion with you as a tactic for trying to take control of you. If I want to get control of you, the quickest shortcut is to get you to let me define you, thus forfeiting your natural right to define yourself. So, at all times, the right answer to “are you a racist” is “I don’t know; how do you define racism?” Make them do the dirty fingernails gruntwork and heavy lifting of an awkward discussion, and observe accordingly how gracefully they may or may not do it. When they stumble and blunder, make it a teachable moment, point out their errors and correct them, in a friendly way. Then stand by to reshape whatever image emerges to suit the discussion’s real needs as necessary. If the other party is trying to be boss of the discussion, make sure he can’t just steal it. Make him earn it, and then only if he deserves it.

      Likewise, don’t feel that in a reading of, say, the Havamal, that you will become wise either. That canon has been through a few layers of not just linguistic and semantic change but cultural change, and so have you, so do be mindful too of the baggage that you are still hauling around from where you have been and are bringing in with you. In judging wisdom literature, give it a few years or so to season in your mental wine rack before seriously judging it. Do not think you understand the verses of a poem like Havamal until you’ve spent enough time understanding their context, both spiritual and mundane. Know, in particular, that these verses are not scripture, and should never be read or contemplated in a spirit of edda-Bibolatry. Don’t be a Heathen rabbi; the fact that Heathenry has no Bible isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

      Duly note, for instance, that when the High One says a wench’s pillow talk is no more to be trusted than a colt on new ice, that’s not misogyny talking, that’s reality being faced by an old wizard who’s been around the block. He’s not talking about womanhood in general, he’s talking about a truce-negotiation in the eternal battle of the sexes. For all that men and women were made for each other, as nobody knows better than the High One, their priorities are too often naturally at odds. A woman not only knows this even better than a man, she also knows that in this type of negotiation the natural advantage is to the female, and she would have to be a fool not to exploit it. Similarly, when the High One says give lies for lies, he is not saying you are allowed to do that, he is saying you are required to do that, enthusiastically, in observation of the Heathen principal of the Reciprocity of the Luck. (Don’t try to look that one up, it’s a Garman’s Rede, but the deeper you look into the Heathen metaphysic, the more you will find how true it is.)

      Note that he also says that the gift looks ever for gain? What that really means is that to be a Heathen is to be a plain dealer. Our holy land is not in the Levant, and we are not a race of bargainers or hagglers. It is always necessary to exchange either in the same coin or at a fair rate of exchange. If you grew up in an Abrahamic culture, you will have had no real exposure to this tradition, which is purely Heathen, any more than you will have really understood, say, personal honor, or the sacrality of the heroic tradition. When he says a gift for a gift, he is pointing out that your luck is in the trust and keeping of your friends, and that gifting here is understood as a friendly act. When your friend gives you a gift, he is handing over a portion of his luck, and it is your duty to gift him back in some equal measure to ward his luck with your own. There is a lot more to this principle, but, alas, no room for it here.

      Similarly, when someone lies about you, that is understood as an hostile act, involving an attempt to steal or hijack your luck by dishonoring you, and if you try to counter it with fair play you are rewarding your enemy’s misbehavior by inviting him to steal even more of your luck. The reason is because of natural human cupidity, i.e. that we are so constituted that it will always be the retaliator who will be punished and the lie that will be believed. (Sorry, another Garman’s Rede, the Law of the Perverse Inversion.) The only proper response is to break the cycle, which you do by mongering an even bigger lie about him. Luck and personal honor are two kinds of Heathen quarks that are so entangled that the act of lying, by compromising his honor, compromises the liar’s luck.

      Personal honor is a bit like a bank account, and he who lies about you must draw his own account down heavily to do so, which he then covers with the honor he stole from your account. Don’t ask me for the exact metaphysics of how this works, but, believe me, it does. Your own honor account will suffer from the hit, but will probably not be bankrupted if you are an honorable man, well-buttressed over time by the principle that you don’t normally lie, and here you’re not stooping, you are just doing what you have to do. The one who will be bankrupted when you steal your honor back again will be the liar, who is likely an habitual liar and probably never had enough balance in his account to cover anyway. I have seen this kind of “It must suck to be him” consequences happen in Heathen internecine dirty politics, and it’s devastating. And it’s, ethically, entirely appropriate. The heathen ethic of “The most effective weapons to use against your enemy are his own” is typically pragmatic and entirely warranted.

      Good luck in your quest.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. “I think that the Gods and spirits care far less about human culture and bloodlines than we do.”

    So much of this post is on-point as far as I’m concerned, but if there was one thing I wish people could take away from it, it would be this. When people talk about Poseidon being a Hellenic god, I understand what they mean, I do, and yet . . . no. The people who recorded His name and His cultus belonged to certain cultures, and surely they understood him through that particular lens, but, the gods are not human. Their cultures are not ours, and ours are not theirs, and just so much this.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I hope it’s ok that I reblog this. Only a few groups use the Eddas and the Sagas as dogma and try to do cultural reconstruction. Most of the heathens I’ve met here in Norway are not like that. In fact, most of the heathens are universalists, modern thinking humans with great values.

    Over here, folkish (etc.) is regarded as racist. If they claim that only those of Germanic origin can be Heathen and that those who aren’t should stay away from it, they should check their sources and their heritage for that matter.

    Organisations, like for example the AFA, have infected heathenry with UPG and MUS to a degree that affects almost all new heathens who look for info online. There’s a lot of bad info out there. There are too many poobahs in Paganism, including Heathenry. People who think their way is the only way. I can’t stand those either.

    Heathenry IS neo-paganism. The only people I’ve found who can’t accept that, are the likes of AFA, and those who replaced their Christian God with Odin, but kept everything else.

    Heathenry has a lot of values in common with the rest of Paganism. The names of the deities are different, and we celebrate slightly fewer holidays (except for those who invented a ton of their own), but it’s definitely Paganism.
    There is one town in Sweden which can claim an unbroken tradition, but everywhere else, it’s a modern reconstruction. Regardless of if it’s new or not, we all need to find our own path and values, and adapt to living in a modern world.

    I can claim to be a pure Swede (as pure as that gets), but that’s because I was born and raised in Sweden, and all my ancestors as far back as I can check (1492) were Swedes. That is not the reason why I’m a Heathen though, and it doesn’t mean someone from for example Brazil or Japan can’t be one.

    I’ve seen people claiming to be direct descendants of so-and-so from Norway who lived in the Viking age. Here in Norway it’s impossible to check genealogy past the reformation. So where did they find that info?

    I agree that the Gods and spirits couldn’t care less about bloodlines. They choose who they choose because of other things. Anyway, we all originated somewhere in Africa (or whatever science says these days).

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Reblogged this on The Ramblings of a Weird Witch and commented:
    I hope it’s ok that I reblog this. Only a few groups use the Eddas and the Sagas as dogma and try to do cultural reconstruction. Most of the heathens I’ve met here in Norway are not like that. In fact, most of the heathens are universalists, modern thinking humans with great values.

    Over here, folkish (etc.) is regarded as racist. If they claim that only those of Germanic origin can be Heathen and that those who aren’t should stay away from it, they should check their sources and their heritage for that matter.

    Organisations, like for example the AFA, have infected heathenry with UPG and MUS to a degree that affects almost all new heathens who look for info online. There’s a lot of bad info out there. There are too many poobahs in Paganism, including Heathenry. People who think their way is the only way. I can’t stand those either.

    Heathenry IS neo-paganism. The only people I’ve found who can’t accept that, are the likes of AFA, and those who replaced their Christian God with Odin, but kept everything else.

    Heathenry has a lot of values in common with the rest of Paganism. The names of the deities are different, and we celebrate slightly fewer holidays (except for those who invented a ton of their own), but it’s definitely Paganism.
    There is one town in Sweden which can claim an unbroken tradition, but everywhere else, it’s a modern reconstruction. Regardless of if it’s new or not, we all need to find our own path and values, and adapt to living in a modern world.

    I can claim to be a pure Swede (as pure as that gets), but that’s because I was born and raised in Sweden, and all my ancestors as far back as I can check (1492) were Swedes. That is not the reason why I’m a Heathen though, and it doesn’t mean someone from for example Brazil or Japan can’t be one.

    I’ve seen people claiming to be direct descendants of so-and-so from Norway who lived in the Viking age. Here in Norway it’s impossible to check genealogy past the reformation. So where did they find that info?

    I agree that the Gods and spirits couldn’t care less about bloodlines. They choose who they choose because of other things. Anyway, we all originated somewhere in Africa (or whatever science says these days).

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Reblogged this on Fire and Ink and commented:
    I thought this was a very good blog post.
    I don’t feel like I fit in within Heathenry, since so many Heathens dismiss UPG and God-touched people out of hand.
    Since I’m a member of the Norwegian Forn Sed (Forn Sidr), I call myself a Forn Sidr Pagan, or just an Old Norse Faith Pagan.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow, just wow! It’s as if you read my mind and put into writing what I couldn’t. I’ve had run-ins with some very nasty on-line Heathen pundits recently who got me to questioning who and what I am as a Heathen, or am not because I didn’t tow their party line.

    How I interact with Thor, and view my place in the universe was dismissed as Star Wars Force b.s., and that my view of the Gods is all wrong. But I wonder what makes them such authorities.

    So anyway, thank you for putting your thoughts out there for everyone who is “not Heathen enough” (according to some people).

    Liked by 4 people

  12. There are so many points you’ve made that I agree with. Another big issue I have with alot of Heathen’s is their dismissal (at best) and downright hatred (at worst) of those who worship or venerate Loki.

    I’ve had self proclaimed Heathen’s go so far as to tell me that I was no better than a satanist, because Loki is basically the devil.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Thank you for writing this blog. It helps me understand better why Loki told me he didn’t want me to seek out the Heathen community at this time.

    You said, “I’ve had a Kemetic Goddess (who I worship mostly in Her Greco-Roman aspects) tell me in a Norse oracular rite to join an organization that bills itself as Druidic.”

    I find that interesting, because when I first made contact with Hecate (she was the first deity I ever approached besides Jesus), she spent ten minutes telling me that she considered me a Christian and that she respected it, and then elaborated in no uncertain terms about how any God or Goddess who had a problem with that had no business working with me and how I should always keep this in mind if I approached others. She volunteered that, straight out of the gate. And then, that same night, she led me directly to the writings of Meister Eckhart, a Christian philosopher I never would have considered reading on my own. I found that amazing because here I was, getting all brave to venture out into the pagan world, and her first concern was to be sure I understood that I shouldn’t leave my Christian heritage behind. Since then, I have found myself approached by Vishnu, a Hindu God, who expressed zero interest in my protestations that I am not East Indian. I have been approached by Raven, who is Native American. Again, he was mildly annoyed by this absurd notion I have that my lack of Native American Ancestry makes it vaguely sacrilegious to talk to him. Loki frequently tells me I need to go talk to Jesus.

    So, yeah… my own UPG says that the Gods are not sectarian or territorial. At least not the ones Loki has invited into my life. But then he’s told me that he lays down conditions before he introduces me to anybody.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about the need to be open to UPG instead of limiting our knowledge of the Gods to the Lore. And I would like to add a point. If the Gods are living beings, then they evolve. It is absurd to assume they are all precisely the same beings that they were back in Snorri’s day. Even if the Lore was entirely accurate and totally literal (which Loki tells me it isn’t), it was already outdated in 1220. There is no reason to think the Gods are the same people now that they were then. By dismissing UPG and considering the Lore to be gospel, people deny the Gods the right to define themselves as they choose to be in this very moment. That’s rather like being 50 years old, and listening to people tell you who you are based on stories they heard your grandmother tell about you when you were six. At the very least, it must be frustrating for them.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I can definitely appreciate where you are coming from here. I personally consider myself Heathen, and if being more specific I say non reconstructionist Heathen.

    Personally I do stick to the Nordic Pantheon, but mostly because I haven’t found myself to connect with any others.

    I am definitely along the lines of a mutt, but my family history on my father’s side does connect with the Nordic people. My last name literally means from the north, and the book on my father’s side has a Viking long ship on the cover. That said, I don’t believe it should be any sort of requirement. That is just my own personal story.

    I’m not a part of any Kindred but I would like to be. Living in the bible belt kind of sucks when your pagan.

    Fun fact, the reason you find Snorri’s writings to be heavily Christian influenced is because he was a Christian. He was a poet that wanted to pass down the beliefs of the Nordic pagans, but had to water it down as to not be thought of a pagan himself. You know, back when they would forcibly convert pagans to Christians. We do owe him thanks, but should take his writings with a grain of salt.

    I don’t really connect with “Neo pagan”, mostly because it is usually associated with Wicca, which is not something I’m going to get in to here. My feeling is the roots are ancient, but the branches and leaves are new healthy growth after a long time of being continuously cut down.

    In the end though, you will find bad eggs in every religion, people who use their religion to justify their bigotry or inappropriate behavior. Take the neo Nazis that call themselves Christians, but refuse to realize Jesus was a middle eastern Jewish man, two groups they hate wrapped up in one man.

    Anywho, I enjoyed your post and thank you for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! As I noted, some of the differences are doctrinarian and some are matters of personal ethics. Calling yourself a non-reconstructionist heathen is an excellent compromise.

      Like

  15. Reblogged on Weaving Wyrd FB Page with this note: How to identify who I am and what I do is problematic. The reasons are very well spelled out in this post. Thank you, Pagan Church Lady.

    Like

  16. Pingback: Why I Am Not An Heathen 2: What Can You Do? | Pagan Church Lady

  17. I love this post, Pagan Church Lady. I think there are many people outside of Heathenry who can identify with what you’ve said here, as well. I know I can. My God has modern followers in Kemeticism, Thelema and even Satanism…and there are dogmatists in all three of those camps who’ve led me over the years to feel that I don’t fit properly into either of them. Hence why me and my brothers just decided to start referring to what we do as our own thing, a new religion that belongs solely to us. So I totally get where you’re coming from and support your preference to define yourself apart from Heathenry while still honoring Aesir, Vanir, friendlier Jotnar, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: a glimpse of Thrymheim | Migdalit Or

  19. Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    I’ve been Heathen for twenty +years and sadly, I have to say this article is pretty spot on about my religion. We’re damning ourselves into irrelevance and brava to this author for calling us out. We can and should do better by our Gods, our Ancestors, and ourselves.

    Like

  20. Reblogged this on Wytch of the North and commented:
    Belatedly getting to read this, but I have to say this is a very well articulated summary of many of the same issues I have with the heathen religion. I am Odin’s through and through, and have struggled for more than twelve years now with the dilemma of whether to call myself heathen. The answer I keep coming up with is “yes, and no.” And I keep coming back to this: “I think that the Gods and spirits care far less about human culture and bloodlines than we do.” This alone sums up so many of the issues I have with heathenry, on many different levels. The gods are not human, and (in my opinion) never have been. Why should They be tied to one culture or one ethnicity? And how dare we presume to dictate Their priorities based on the past mores of any particular culture–particularly in cases where we are clearly following our own agenda, not Theirs?

    Liked by 3 people

  21. brilliant and well thought and written post. My first initiation into the craft was in 1985 to Woden and Freya. I was in an eclectic coven – The HP was Odin’s and a runemaster, yet also carried the currents of the Welch. The HPS identified as a sorceress and Welch. The group itself had people of all different gender and sexual identities, people who walked multiple paths and valued UPG, although that terminology did not even exist then. All these years later I have boiled the label for my identity down to polytheist mystic and witch. I have friends who do not have issues with any of what that means and vice versa. I no longer have a fixed group per se, I would say I have the group that the Gods bless me with, many I may never meet face to face although I would like to. You can count yourself amongst that number. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Reblogged this on The Serpent's Labyrinth and commented:
    As a queer trans man who is highly UPG-dependent and has been some flavor of Norse Pagan since ~2000 (and Vanatru since 2004), I have a lot of the same issues with Heathenry, and why I tend to identify more specifically as Lokean and Vanatru, rather than list my religious affiliation as Heathen. (Then there’s the dual-trad thing which is another kettle of fish altogether.) The author of this post articulated my problems with Heathenry very well. It’s been something I’ve struggled with for years, but the elephant in the room could never really be addressed this openly years ago; I’m glad to see it being addressed now. I believe that the Old Ones are just as vital now as they were in the heyday of their worship, but I also believe that religion needs to change with the times, and chaining oneself to lore is a way to stifle true connections to the Powers.

    Thank you, Pagan Church Lady, for writing this. It needs to be said.

    Like

  23. I self-identify as a Gaelic-Heathen and I don’t care what some self-appointed “authority” on Heathenry (or the sometimes acceptable syncretic) path has to say about my practices. But indeed, my initial introductions to the Heathen world almost scared me away. Heathens can be an intimidating surely bunch 😮

    Like

  24. Reblogged this on Ironwood Witch and commented:
    Well, said, though I hesitate to STOP calling myself a Heathen for many of these reasons.

    I am a Northern Tradition Pagan, and I AM A HEATHEN.

    Because I will NOT let drunken frat boys wearing viking clothing, racist asshattatru, queer bashing assholes (Freyer. His Priests. ITS IN THE GODDAMN LORE. Read a book asshattatru), UPG haters and those Heathens that shit on other pagans be the face of Heathery.

    That is NOT who we are, and that is NOT who our Gods are, and I will not let them tarnish the name Heathenry and break frith like this. I will not let them sully the Hospitality Heathens are (and should be) known for.

    So even though they don’t want me (I worship the ‘wrong’ Gods, being Angrboda’s woman) I will still call myself a Heathen because I will not let them sully our name.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. More and more, those are the comments that I hear. It’s funny, too, because I got involved in the process of unintentionally building a Kindred in my area, and since I’m one of the dominant voices I make sure to let people know that “Not all Heathens…” despite not identifying with them myself.

    I consider myself Northern Tradition as well… but even some of the bigger voices in the movement include themselves among Heathenry. I think that NTP has been a good place for those of us who feel as I do to reside, but many of us realize that deliberately excluding ourselves from greater Heathenry is ridiculous, given that there are many who *do* include themselves that share essentially the same beliefs and practices.

    Like

  26. Pingback: To Be or Not to Be…Heathen, That Is. | My Path, Uncharted

  27. Pingback: 30 Days of Loki: Day 25 | The Serpent's Labyrinth

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