Heathen Woman: Finding Our Voices

How many of you have taken part in a heathen-related conversation and felt inadequate (or intimidated)? For many new heathens, this is an issue. One of the biggest positive attributes heathens possess is that we take study seriously. Second to that is our insatiable desire to learn, converse, and ask questions. There are some people, however, that seem to already know all the answers to those questions, which leaves us weary of offering our own perspective – especially if our voice is new. Opinions with an air of expertise can lead a person to feel that their own input isn’t valued or heard. However, fresh takes on otherwise repeated debates can not only increase our critical thinking related to heathenry, but they can keep our minds open to receiving new insights and lessons. Assisting our fellow heathens in lifting their voices can launch thoughts that the “old-timers” haven’t heard and may shed light on long-held questions. But if we allow our voices to be quashed before we even speak, or if we consent to being dismissed out of hand, then we do a disservice to ourselves and our community.

When examining the wealth of opinions available in books and online, know that your voice and personal perceptions are the most important tools that you own. If studying the lore or runes in a group, keep an open mind, but also stand by your values and own experience. If someone doesn’t agree, that’s okay. Not everyone will understand each other’s perceptions, so we meet them where they are and keep moving.

In keeping with an open mind, allow yourself to fully explore all facets that spiritually move you instead of remaining rooted to just one area. If you find the runes inspire you more than the historical texts, and they help you form a closer connection to the gods, by all means embrace that. Spiritual experiences speak differently to everyone, and each is as personal and valid as the next. Endeavor to discover the deeper lessons using the methods that work best for you, and really work to apply them to daily living. Find your strengths, and work on the weaker areas of learning, until the inner and outer voices reflect confidence.

The same applies to those who are finding their strength again after a long spiritual absence, or are recovering from a spiritual injury. When a bone is broken, we can mark how well it’s doing by the ability to move it again and its ability to bear weight. There are physical signs of healing. But how do we measure recovery when dealing with spiritual or emotional injuries? In this case, it may become necessary to metaphorically reinvent the wheel. If you had a caravan of wagons all travelling together and a wheel shattered on the road, would you replace it with a new one that was strong, or would you glue the broken bits together in hopes that it would hold up? The same applies to the psyche. If we attempt to rebuild our lives with the same broken parts that caused a profound injury to us, then at best we are hoping that the “wheel” will hold and won’t break apart as we begin to move again. But the odds of that happening are low. It’s sometimes necessary to start again from a different perspective, surrounded by new experiences and people. I won’t presume that this is a comfortable proposition, nor am I saying that we should just ditch everyone and anything in our lives on a whim. I’m speaking solely on those things that have caused us a great injury. Part of that recovery is letting go of that which aims to break us (and there are likely folks in our lives who aim to without even realizing it). It’s a process of finding peace in the determined confidence that we refuse to give away. Sometimes, regaining our spiritual and emotional health comes down to the staunch decision to save ourselves by seeking health and joy.

There is more in each daily moment than the mere experience of having lived it. There is the lesson. It’s not always obvious, and may take some time to present itself, but the lesson is there nonetheless, like a seed waiting to take root. From the seemingly unremarkable can come the widest doors of opportunity if only we seek the greater lessons waiting to be discovered – but we need to be brave enough to walk through them. Once learned, it’s up to us to apply those discoveries. Knowledge without application is simply information.

Since heathen lore is scant in places, we are sometimes guilty of copying and pasting the same regurgitated information. The applicable lessons contained within the texts we have access to can get lost or ignored in our quest for the pursuit of more and more words — but knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. The difference lies in the practical application of principles and insights that we gain. The historical texts that we still have, even the Eddas, contain more than the past. There are lessons within them. However, it is appropriate to continue our studies beyond these written references. By considering the bigger picture and regaining our voices and passion for the spiritual, we get glimpses that extend into the spirit of the Northern traditions. This approach also furthers our understanding of the gods and their attributes when we seek them in the natural world. So use those voices! In living true (“Tru”) to the purpose that is our path, seeking insights in daily life becomes a paramount task.


Heathen Woman is published on alternate Fridays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

About Heather O'Brien

Heather O’Brien is an interfaith clergy member and Founder of Women of Asatru. She writes and speaks on heathen related topics pertaining to heathen reconstruction, Norse mythology, and European folk lore.

Heather has been studying Germanic tribal reconstruction and Celto-Germanic mythology for over fifteen years, and is in the process of writing a book that focuses on supporting and encouraging heathen women. She has also written for columns pertaining to organic homesteading.

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    Good piece, Heather.

    I think that, whilst the historical lore (the Eddas) are a good starting point, we need to be wary of them. They were written by Christians, after all, and that leaves them prone to distortion.

    I also think that Heathens should embrace difference of opinion in civil debate, rather than entrenched argument. Whilst history is good to know, we are now, not then. Spiritual evolution is natural and a good thing.

    I also think that we should not be afraid of writing new stories, if we feel moved to do so.

    We should also encourage the sharing of our stories with the wider community. Not necessarily to try and convert anyone, but to increase understanding. That way, when someone hears the term “Heathen”, they might think of something more than just “infidel” or “Marvel fan”.

  • xJane

    I come out of a Catholic tradition that obliquely encouraged debate (which required knowledge of the appropriate texts). Of course, that debate was supposed to strengthen faith, but I was attracted to it because I hadn’t any. Heathenism is similar, IMHO, because we’re rebuilding something from incomplete knowledge. No matter how well we know and understand the Eddas and lore, there are things we know from archaeologic and historic evidence that cannot be found in these texts. So there’s some UPG necessary (as much as UPG is anathema to most Heathens). Personally, a lively and active debate is something I actively seek out as a means of understanding Heathenism better…but I can definitely see how it might be intimidating. I try to come from a place of “You probably know more than I, but this is what I think, show me what I’m missing.”

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      The reason, I think, many Heathens dislike UPG is how dogmatic people can be about it.

      When someone’s personal gnosis goes against everything others agree with (including all the available historical sources), it is probably wrong. Not many people like being told that.


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