I Do Not Stand with the AFA

I haven’t posted anything here yet about the latest AFA snafu, mostly because I’ve been caught up on other social networks about it. So let me repeat the statement I made on my tumblr:

Most of you have probably seen by now the AFA’s post about gender. I saw it on Facebook this morning and was flabbergasted. They’ve tiptoed around being racist and bigoted for such a long time that I honestly never thought they’d outright say such things. Now we have it. “Beautiful white children” and nonsense about gender being a gods-given gift.

Needless to say, I disagree. I distance myself from this bullshit. These opinions are not accepted on my blog or in my hearth. Rest assured I am a safe space from the racism, sexism, transphobia, and general hatred.

Don’t let these guys and people like them put you off Heathenry.

Let it be known that I have signed Declaration 127 in solidarity with a large chunk of the Heathen world.

I stand for an inclusive Heathenry.

Heathenry Is Small, and That’s a Good Thing

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.

What Is Heathen Culture?

It’s totally impossible for us to know what exactly the cultures of historical societies were like. We can’t go back and live them and know what people thought and felt. This is one of the reasons reconstructionism is hard. And yet modern Heathen culture isn’t totally modern-made. It draws its inspiration and roots from historical cultures.

So what is Heathen culture nowadays?

There are two main fora where our culture develops, and those are online, in the wild wastes of racist roulette, and in meatworld, in the slightly less wild wastes of racist roulette. Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience with meatworld Heathen and Neopagan groups, because there aren’t a lot of Heathens around here and I am extremely wary. But there is certainly etiquette and commonly-held ideas and values. As a side note, not all Heathens are theists, and even though a lot of Heathen culture is centred around deities and religious practice, Heathen culture is not dependent on a theistic framework. (I find this fascinating.)

A lot of the aforementioned ideas and values are drawn from sources like myths and sagas, which I will talk about in detail in a later post. This is stuff like sticking to your kin (if they are honourable), being generous when possible, and defending your friends.
There are also more concrete, practice-based things we do based on the sources. For example, we use words like “heill” or “waes hael”; we might recite poetry from the Eddas or pour out a blót to the vaettir and gods; we carve idols and runestones and drink toasts of mead. These are all things done like they were “back in the day”, as close as we can make them, of course. This is the realm of the reconstructionist.

Then you have the practices which are heavily influenced by modern paganisms, or which are purely modern developments. An example is divination by runes. People who do this often use the Elder Futhark, because it’s clean and orderly and it’s easier to find runesets of these than of other futharks. First of all, in the Viking Age, the time most of us emulate/are spiritually inspired by, people used variants of the Younger Futhark, not the Elder. On top of that, there is no good evidence that runes were used for divination. Tacitus mentions some sticks with carvings on them being used for divination by the Germans – but we don’t know that the markings were runes, and his writing has problems of its own, quite apart from being centuries before the Viking Age. Regardless, modern Heathens use runes for purposes of divination and magic, and the practice is not going to die out any time soon. It is a part of modern Heathen culture. Other things along this line are the hammer rite, which seems to have some influence from Wicca, taking a Heathen patronymic containing a god’s name, using runes as simple letters to spell out English or other languages that are not Old Norse/Proto-Norse, using mead or other drink instead of blood for blót – the list goes on, I am sure. None of these things are bad or wrong if you ask me. They’re simply part of our culture. That culture is alive and changing, and we’re living in it.

Then you have etiquette sort of things. Again, I don’t know many Heathens in meatworld, so I can’t say as much here. Every kindred will have different etiquette: who speaks first at ritual, what one is supposed to say, what is appropriate for the hörgr and what is appropriate for the table, even what entities to hail (some groups frown upon Loki being included, wrongly, I think). These things, too, are Heathen culture, and they change from group to group.

What is Heathen culture? It’s not one thing I can point to. To be honest, I don’t think I can really answer that question. But I can tell you what it’s made of: historical practices, derived practices, and organic social habits. Heathen culture is a big, developing body, reaching and changing as it grows, like Yggdrasil’s branches, and we are all a part of it.

One thing I think we have to be careful of is dismissing newer practices as unprecedented or ahistorical. Saying “this is a modern habit, therefore it’s invalid”. This is dangerous. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to say this: if we don’t allow our practices to evolve and grow, we will be stuck in a rut. Times change and people change, and to cleave solely to historical traditions while dismissing newer practices is kind of defeating the purpose of being Heathen. We’re here to live our lives as Heathens, aren’t we? That means doing things with heart, as they happen, naturally. Our world is necessarily different to the world 1000 years ago. Of course we will find and develop new ways of worship, ritual, and living.

Culture is alive. Religion is alive. We should be in it celebrating it and living it.

Wanting to Give Back

Why does my religion matter so much to me? Why do I love to talk about it to anyone who asks? Why do I feel this urge to build things here in our little Heathen corner?
I was thinking about my role in the community. It’s tiny. My role, that is. I recently took over admin of my kindred’s Facebook page. Sounds important, but all I do is post our meeting times when they happen. Still, I’m excited and honoured (and a little scared) to have that responsibility. I love it. I want to do more. The word “community” actually means more than a buzzword to me when it comes to Heathenry. I want to do stuff.
Why? It’s not because I want to proselytise. Gross. I mean, I love to see new Heathens and I like to let people know that we exist, in case they’re searching for something, but I don’t have a “Heathen agenda” to force on people.
I want to get involved because I’ve gotten so much from Heathenry. I want to be a bridge for new people on the spiritual search. I want to help people who are already here. I want to give something tangible back.
Because Heathenry has given me a feeling of wholeness. It’s given me strength. It’s given me pride. It’s taken away my bitterness. I care about Heathenry, and I care about the people who will find what they’re looking for here. I want other people to be helped as much as I was helped. Of course Heathenry isn’t for everyone. Some will dip their toe in the water and move on. But others might decide to jump in, and maybe I can tell them the water isn’t as deep as it looks.
I’m not old or experienced enough to be of much help. Someday I want to lead a kindred, or publish a devotional, or be a blogger for a religious website, or write Heathen fiction, whatever that might be (and I want to find out), but for now I guess I’ll keep on trucking and learning so I can be of more use one day.