How the Hel Did I Get to This Point?

I feel like I made a huge step today. In the midst of conversation I told someone I was a Heathen without hesitation.

Just a year ago that wouldn’t have happened. If I was chatting with someone and we got to the topic of religion and they asked the inevitable question, my knee-jerk response would be “No, I’m not religious”. Because I was so used to being an atheist for so long, and because I was scared to say “Yes, I am religious; I am a Heathen”. Something has changed inside me to allow me to say to a near-stranger, without hesitation or crippling anxiety, that I am a Heathen.

It wasn’t out of the blue. We were talking about History Channel’s Vikings, which I enjoy immensely, and I said I was relieved with the way they handled the religion of the period (that is, with respect, surprising comprehension, and research befitting a History channel. With the exception of the weird-ass priest guys. What’s with everyone licking their palms? Seriously). We talked a little bit more on the topic, and my interlocutor said something like “I find any of those religions, Norse, Greek, as _____ as any other”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear the word he used to describe them. It started with a p and it had three syllables, is all I know. (Update: I since asked him what word he used. It was ‘plausible’.) From where I was sitting, I thought he could have meant one of two things: all religions are silly and useless, or all religions are equally useful (as good as one another). I realise those two statements aren’t mutually exclusive.

Whatever his sentiment, I knew that my moment had come. I lifted the hammer around my neck and said “Well, I’m a Heathen. This is a hammer of Thor”. Amazingly, amazingly, he seemed to know what I was saying. And you know something else amazing? He wanted to know what it was about. What I did. Holidays? Rituals? Daily activities? How I got to this point? And I told him. And it was wonderful.

I think he might have researched paganisms before, since he knew what I was talking about, but he indicated that although he admired the Hellenic gods/myths, he couldn’t bring himself to be a believer (he didn’t use that word, but more delicate phrasing). I assured him there were a lot of atheist pagans, if he was interested, and that basically one’s own practice was one’s own practice. One can do whatever feels right.

I wasn’t trying to proselytise, and I believe we were just having a [great] discussion about religion. Maybe he was interested. Maybe he wasn’t. But it was a good chat.

It got me thinking, how exactly did I get here?

I’ve written about this before so you’d think I could just go back and read it again. I told my conversation partner that I’d gotten into Norse mythology and decided that it felt like home, and that just reading it wasn’t enough; I needed to live it. And that’s true.

But what events actually happened to make me a “believer”? How can I believe that my gods exist, in whatever form? How the heck did I go from staunch cold-hearted atheist to devoted gods-loving Heathen?

My journey into Heathenism was facilitated by Heimdall, the gatekeeper and warden of the gods (and I only just now realised the symmetry there – real tears are in my eyes). I was probably ten or eleven. I remember seeing an image of him (okay, it was in Age of Mythology, chillax), with his name above it, and just staring at him. For ages. Not knowing why his name felt so familiar, why that image struck me, why it felt like he was important somehow. (You know, I remember thinking that that particular artwork didn’t suit him, as though I knew what would have suited him. Isn’t that a strange thing to think?) Looking at that image now, it’s nothing special. It doesn’t even look like him to me. But it’s the first conscious memory I have of somehow truly connecting with a Heathen deity, and that memory has always stuck out to me. It’s one of those memories you never forget.

Here's the image, copyright Ensemble Studios. It's the biggest one I could find.
Here’s the image, copyright Ensemble Studios. It’s the biggest one I could find.

Fast forward five or so years, and I was interested in Pagan religions. I don’t know what prompted it. I began to research, went through Wicca, somehow realised there must be a similar revival thing with the Norse myths, and came upon Ásatrú. Well, dang, thought I. This really makes a lot of sense. Who would have thought there were other people in the world with the same values as me? I was interested. But I had still problems with the idea of religion and being religious.

A year or two later, I had some rough times. In retrospect I can recognise depression. Maybe some other thing. My life was a dark tunnel for two continuous years, and it just got darker. More and more frequently, I was afraid, truly afraid that I was going insane. That I was so angry and empty that I would snap. I really didn’t have a good hold over myself. Needless to say, I developed and even willingly enforced some terribly unhealthy mental habits.

Here’s where the inexplicable ‘blank’ in my conversion comes along. Somewhere along the line, in that hateful, awful tunnel, I found Heimdall. I don’t know if he horned in on my life or if I went to him for help. I think I might have held him in my mind all that time, and realised what he stood for. I think part of me knew that I should strive for what he stood for. That I should follow his lead. This rational, healthy part of me battled with the depraved, angry part for a long time. I won some. I lost most. I started talking to him like he was real. I started asking him for strength. I started apologising when I broke my promises to him, and I started asking for second chances. (More about all that in a later post.)

Basically, he became a deity instead of a mythological figure. He was a force in my life, whether it was all in my head or not.

It was a long time before I started winning more often than losing. I still lose from time to time, though I don’t fall as far as I used to. By the time I started becoming healthy again, I was a full-blown Heathen, albeit not a totally hard polytheistic one.

I guess the answer to the question “how did you get to this point” is that I had been brought low, down to the ground, and by the time I was able to stand up again, I had been reforged entirely – as a Heathen.