My Heathen side

In one of my first posts I mentioned that Heathenry would have been a logical path for me to take, from an ancestral perspective; my Mom’s side of the family is largely Palatine German (and British), and that’s the part of the family that I grew up with. However, at the time that I was discovering paganism (more than 15 years ago now – ye Gods!) I was still subconsciously running away from that part of my heritage, as I associated it with my heavily Christian upbringing (my grandfather, into whose house we moved when I was five, was a serving Lutheran minister).

As I’ve grown older, of course, time and experience (and having a relatively solid religious identity) have given me a better perspective on this question, and lately I find myself drawn more strongly back to some of the mental landscapes of my childhood. Particularly at this time of year, German-ness seems to be everywhere for me – Christmas trees and other holiday customs of German or Scandinavian origin, carols like Stille Nacht and O Tannenbaum that I can still sort of sing in the original, and of course all the memories of Christmas with my grandparents (who both passed on a number of years ago). This year especially, for some reason, the “season of memory” from Samhain to Yule has been particularly powerful for me.

I find myself reading blogs by my Heathen colleagues and resonating strongly with the old familiar Germanic worldview – the fatalism, so similar to Stoicism in many ways but with a flavor all its own; the idea of kin relationship with the Gods that doesn’t really exist in Hellenism; the Sagas and the Anglo-Saxon literature that I breathed in college. I love Mittelalter-rock¹, and bathing in the German singing takes me back in a visceral way that only music can do, especially for me.

I don’t know where this calling is leading me, just yet – I don’t feel a great urge to become Ásatrú, and I’m certainly not ready to abandon Hellenism or Druidry (in fact, the Druid aspect of my path has also been becoming more important to me lately) – but I think it means *something* more than Erik’s getting nostalgic in middle age. :)

[1] Mittelalter-rock (Medieval rock) is a German movement that grew out of their great Medieval Fairs (they have these like we have Renaissance Faires in America). Styles can range from groups using purely or mostly period instruments (Corvus Corax, Filia Irata, Ohrenpeyn) to a mix of period and modern (Saltatio Mortis, Schelmish, Qntal²), and from more-or-less-straight medieval with lots of Christian music (that being mostly what there was in the Middle Ages) to mock-Christian (Potentia Animi – very good musically, but I find their “naughty” inverted-Catholicism shtick rather tiresome) to outright pagan (Faun).

[2] Qntal started out as a side project of some of the members of Estampie, which is focused more on straight early-music performance.

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6 thoughts on “My Heathen side

  1. Kay

    I considered Asatru for a while. My ancestry is strongly Scandinavian (Norse and Danish) and Brit (English and Welsh). Who know, I might eventually find a home within it.

    If you come across a good (readable) book on Heathenism, let me know. The ones I’ve looked at just don’t resonate.

  2. executivepagan Post author

    Will do… I’ve glanced through a couple recently in the bookstore, but for now I’m finding that there is MORE than enough info on the Web.

  3. Kullervo

    I’ve strongly considered Asatru recently as well as I’ve grown increasingly uncertain that I have any kind of meaningful spiritual future within Christianity. There are a lot of things about Heathenry/Asatru (I use the terms interchangeably will full knowledge that they have subtly different and overlapping meanings, but I use them to mean Germanic neopaganism in general and probably Asatru in specific) that I am attracted to.

    On the other hand, I’m skeptical that any more-or-less strict reconstructionist religion is the way to go. I’m just not convinced that acurately reconstructing ancient religion is possible, or that it’s necessarily even all that valuable. Maybe if I was more of a history buff, I don’t know.

    To me, any reconstructionism is going to be partial at best, which means it will leave gaps to be filled in by other practices, either borrowed or innovated. What then is the difference between a reconstructionist who borrows and innovates to fill in the gaps and a more contemporary religious practitioner who draws on ancient sources to round out his spiritual practice?

    It seems that the reconstructionist places an unwarranted value on the ancient simply because it is ancient, and the midset ultimately means being willing to abandon more contemporary or “inauthentic” practices that may actually be useful and emaningful for authentic ancient practices that might not.

    The age of a religious practice or belief has nothing to do with its utility. The continuous use of a religious practice over a long period of time does lend credibility to that practice, since it means it has in some way been validated by the test of time. But a reconstructionist religion is going to involve often attempting to revive essentially dead practices, and in my mind the question needs to at least be asked- have these spiritual practices been abandoned because they are no longer useful?

    Anyway, the reconstructionist issue is only one of several reasons I have for not choosing Asatru (and it applies with equal force to reconstructionist Druid traditions).

    There’s also what I call the flavor issue. I like Norse mythology, i like scandinavian history, I like Vikings, and I like my Scandinavian heritage. Sure. But Do I want to tie them all together into a belief system that I apply to my entire life? Do I want my whole life to be Viking-flavored? The answer is a resounding no. I’d feel like I was LARPing all the time.

    Incidentally, this is a problem for me with most religions. I am equally hesitant to embrace a life that is entirely Jesus-flavored. I guess I feel like life is a bit more complex than that, and a meaningful belief sytstem in my eyes would have to complement the rest of my life, not supplant it.

    Finally, there’s the racism issue. I know that there are universalist heathens and I know that the folkish Asatru swear up and down that they’re not racist, but if you read McNallen’s articles on the Asatru Folk Assembly’s website, it all looks to me like thinly-veiled racist rhetoric. Putting a “we’re not racists, we swear” disclaimer on the front page doesn;t fix it. the whole thing makes me a little uncomfortable.

    I know it’s entirely possible to be Asatru without being racist or even folkish, but it seems to me like you’d have to spend your life explaining to people that you’re “not that kind of Asatru,” and it means that when moving in the Asatru community, you’re constantly going to be having to deal with “that kind of Asatru” sharing your space.

    Again, this is a problem with other religions, too. Fundamentalists sour me on the rest of Christianity, even though it’s entirely possible to be Shelby Spong and be nothing like the Fundies whatsoever. But as any kind of Christian, you’re going to be associated with the worst of Christianity and you’re going to constantly be called on to account for the worst kind of Christians. And moving in Christian circles, you’re going to be encountering and dealing with those people, defending yourself to them, debating theology with them, etc.

    I realize that every religion or belief system has its loonies that give the rest a bad name, and embracing a belief system in any kind of community means embracing even the whackos in that community. But I can decide what kind of whackos I’m willing (and unwilling) to embrace.

    So whiile there are aspects of Asatru/Heathenry that resonate with me, there’s enough that I don’t like about it that I’m unwilling to take the whole package.

  4. executivepagan Post author

    …I’m skeptical that any more-or-less strict reconstructionist religion is the way to go. I’m just not convinced that acurately reconstructing ancient religion is possible, or that it’s necessarily even all that valuable. Maybe if I was more of a history buff, I don’t know.

    I can give you my take on it, for what it’s worth… As I said in an early post, I stumbled across Hellenism more or less accidentally, but once I did it immediately felt *right*. Not like I was being “called” or anything, just… comfortable and familiar. I’m sure part of that is that the mythology IS comfortable and familiar, since like most Americans I grew up with it.

    To me, any reconstructionism is going to be partial at best, which means it will leave gaps to be filled in by other practices, either borrowed or innovated.

    I don’t know any recons who would disagree with this.

    What then is the difference between a reconstructionist who borrows and innovates to fill in the gaps and a more contemporary religious practitioner who draws on ancient sources to round out his spiritual practice?

    Attitude, mainly. I consider myself more of a “revivalist” than a recon, for many of the same reasons you cite; we’re all interested in a living relationship with the Shining Ones, but the approach is different. Most hardcore recons I know follow that methodology because they believe that the Gods appreciate the old ways, and the effort it takes to worship that way; and that innovation should thus be kept to the necessary minimum.

    And, if it leads them into a deeper relationship with the Gods, then that’s great! There is a lot of value in the old ways, and I certainly don’t scorn them; but I don’t feel that I am wholly bound to them either.

    The “contemporary” worshiper you cite, on the other hand, while she might be interested in ancient worship as an adjunct, is coming from a completely different mental space. As an imperfect but I think functional analogy, consider the difference between the religious approach of Reform and Orthodox Judaism. Reform *encourages* the performance of mitzvot (commandments), but the emphasis is more on finding those practices that deepen one’s spiritual experience, where Orthodoxy teaches that the performance of mitzvot – all mitzvot – IS what deepens the spiritual experience.

    Do I want my whole life to be Viking-flavored?

    LOL.

    I’d feel like I was LARPing all the time.

    I used to feel that way when I tried to wear ritual robes as well; I spent too many years in the SCA to be able to pull it off in religion without feeling like an idiot. That’s why I worship in nice street clothes – khakis and a polo shirt, normally.

    Finally, there’s the racism issue.

    Yes there is, sadly. Folkishness is *not* automatically racism, any more than Zionism is (the UN notwithstanding); but I’m afraid you’re right that the issue would periodically be present.

    So while there are aspects of Asatru/Heathenry that resonate with me, there’s enough that I don’t like about it that I’m unwilling to take the whole package.

    Then, barring some sort of revelation or change of heart, I would say you’d have no business “swearing Tru”. I think if the Aesir (or Vanir) were calling you to worship them, you’d know it – my impression is that they’re not exactly subtle, a lot of the time. :) And my experience has taught me that if you try to force it, even with the best intentions in the world, it may work for a while but eventually something will have to give (as you are clearly seeing in your current situation vis-à-vis Christianity).

    Incidentally, this is a problem for me with most religions. I am equally hesitant to embrace a life that is entirely Jesus-flavored. I guess I feel like life is a bit more complex than that, and a meaningful belief system in my eyes would have to complement the rest of my life, not supplant it.

    And that’s the core issue, right there. All religions are gateways to understanding divine Reality, as far as we can; but each religion is also a filter, which more easily passes some aspects of that Reality, and more or less blocks others. (Did you see National Treasure? Remember the funky glasses Ben used to read the back of the Declaration of Independence? What he saw changed depending on which filters he was using.)

    More and more, I am coming to believe that while comparative religion does provide useful data, in order to grasp a religion’s deepest insights you have to enter into it so deeply that it transforms *you* – until you truly see the world, and even the Divine, through that particular filter.

    For me, the animist/polytheist filter provides the picture that resonates with my deepest instincts about the way things are; but it’s still taken years for me to lose the vestiges of my Christian background – and let go of my attraction to Judaism – in order to be able to enter into my chosen faith deeply enough that I feel that change beginning.

  5. Kullervo

    I agree with your last point, by the way. I’m sure that to really get the meaning and spirituality I crave, I need to explore a religious system of some kind in a much deeper way than I have been doing. But picking one is problematic for me, and then being willing to let go of my hang-ups and give it a whole-hearted try is also extremely problematic.

  6. executivepagan Post author

    Well, like I said, it’s taken me years just to get to this point… the best advice I can think of right now is to be patient and gentle with yourself. Keep seeking until you believe you’ve found water, then dig the well.

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