There’s a huge Jehovah’s Witnesses conference in town at the moment, and the masses of people wearing “God’s Kingdom” badges got me thinking: would I really prefer it if my religion were so large and organised? The answer, I decided after not much consideration, is no.
Heathenry, as a religious category in the modern world, barely exists. We have barely any members in comparison to other world religions, even those considered minorities. We’re not exactly present in most people’s minds, and most people haven’t even heard of Heathenry, even if they have a vague notion of other Pagan religions. We barely exist.
Maybe I’m just used to being a weirdo that can’t check any boxes, but I’m okay with being under people’s radar. I don’t get noticed or discriminated against. (Actively, anyway. I still get incidental flak when I happen to be in the same room with atheists or religious bigots who bitch about mindless sheep or faithless heathens, small ‘h’, respectively. But that’s barely something to complain about, which is another reason why I’m happy to be under the radar.)
The flip side of being so small that no one knows you exist is that you aren’t taken seriously, and this is the thing that takes second place in the list of Things About Being Heathen That Piss Me Off. The exchange goes like this: someone sees my hammer and asks what it is (assuming they don’t just say “nice anchor”). I tell them it’s Thor’s hammer. They usually either nod and say “cool”, or mention Marvel!Thor. At this point I either let it go, or go on to talk about Norse mythology and my interest in it. Occasionally we get to the point where I say I follow the Northern Germanic gods. This has only happened a few times. On all occasions, the person was respectful, and once, they were super interested.
Now, this is in person, where people are way less likely to be shitty, because their face and your fist both occupy the same three square feet of physical space. But on the internet, people let loose, and boy do lotsa folks think it’s dumb if you worship Thor. And they almost never listen when you try to explain that your religion is real and serious and worthy of respect. This also happens when you try to legitimise or legislate Neopagan religions in any way, at least in America. Because Heathenry is so small, it’s not taken seriously.
Also, because we’re small, there aren’t that many Heathens to talk to, even if you live in a hammer-dense area. You can feel a little lonely at times. There are roughly 300 Heathens in the whole of Australia, and where I am, there are only two groups to choose from. One is tiny; the other is racist. Take your pick.
But think of all the things we don’t have to deal with because we’re so small and disorganised. We don’t have religious leaders disagreeing and causing fights and creating their own sects (well, that has happened, but it’s not like Luther-scale, or Anglican Church scale). We don’t have a central body trying to force rules and regulations onto us. We tend not to have priests who know it all and who stop people from doing their own thing. We don’t have any official sort of code that says “you’re a real Heathen” or “they’re a fake Heathen”. It’s just a label and an identity and a culture that we choose on our own, for ourselves.
We don’t have to deal with all the crap. Yeah, we don’t have any temples. Yeah, it’s nice to go to a large, organised event for a festival. Yeah, sometimes it’d be nice to have some sort of informed, approved guidance from someone with authority. (Or would it?) I suppose the main thing Heathens have because of all this is freedom. And individual responsibility.
This era is the beginning of a religion. We are the birth. Or maybe the afterbirth, I don’t know, they never show that in movies. We have choices and flexibility. At the moment, we can do whatever the Hel we want for ourselves religion-wise because we’re on such a small scale. And that’s perfect for us Heathens, I think.