A Heathen’s Response to Hate

“When you come upon misdeeds
speak out about those misdeeds,
and give your enemies no peace.”

(“Poetic Edda,” Havamal, verse 127)

We are in the midst of a pandemic. It’s not a sickness and it’s not something that can be cured by any neat inoculation. No, that pandemic is hatred and it is a disease as corrosive and deadly as any plague. As my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters (and those who love and support them) struggle bravely onward in the fight for respect and equal rights, it seems they have something else to worry about too: their own safety. (Not that this hasn’t been a concern before, but now, it seems that young people are being targeted to a degree that we as a society should find terrifying and appalling).

Over the past week, I have heard of at least half dozen murders of gay youth: Seth Walsh, who committed suicide after repeated bullying, bullying his school is now trying to deny (and yes, in my mind, that’s murder just as if he’d been beaten down in the street. Words and threats have power after all both to harm and to heal, all the more so when one sees no way out.), Billy Lucas also committed suicide for the very same reasons, so did Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi. (http://www.theawl.com/2010/09/a-summary-of-our-gay-teen-bodycount) Today I learned of another murder, this time a knifing, though at the request of the family, I shall allow the boy to remain anonymous. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Are we as a nation really so obsessed with the consensual sexual practices of our neighbors that we tacitly condone venting our hatred, our prejudice, our ignorance and small mindedness on others in such a fashion?  That is what this comes down to. It’s not about who is doing what to whom sexually. It’s about perceived gender violation being met with lethal violence. And nothing is being done. Our children are dying brutally and nothing is being done.

There is a lot of talk within Heathenry about the religion having a warrior’s ethos. Good. If that’s the case (and I believe it can be) then it begs the question: what are we doing to stop this? A warrior’s first duty was to protect his or her community from violence, from harm, from devastation. A warrior’s first duty was to protect those who could not protect themselves. In doing so, he or she kept the community strong. Inangarð was created and maintained. Now is the perfect time, in whatever small ways one can, to put that warrior ethos into direct and positive action.  It doesn’t matter that none of the boys I mentioned were Heathen (though at least one I know of was practicing his own ancestral tradition). A society that encourages or tacitly condones the death of those who are different can very easily look at those of us practicing our traditional religions as being a little too different to warrant equality as well. We could be these boys; and even if that is not the case, what kind of human being stands by silent and inert while this type of injustice is going on? Sometimes silence equals consent. It equals agreement. It equals moral cowardice.

When are we going to stand up, as a group, and say “this is not acceptable?” What are we each doing to protect those who need it the most? I don’t have any answers here. I know that my religion tells me to stand up in the face of injustice, to speak out, to embrace the grace of moral courage. If you can do nothing else, each and every one of us can pray and make offerings to our Gods and ancestors that this spate of violence stop, that our society wakes itself up. Moreover, each and every one of us should be on the lookout for those ways in which we can step up, step in and actively help prevent this from getting any worse. All but one of the examples I noted above involved school bullying. Our schools are becoming emotional war-zones. So there is a place to start.  Those of you with children: what are you doing to make your children’s schools a safer place?   Those without: what can you do?

I urge all Heathens and Pagans to do anything they can to be a voice of reason, compassion, and respect and to be a haven for those who, like so many of these poor kids mentioned above, may feel they have nowhere else to turn. Let this be a way in which we honor our Gods, in which we show the world that we as a group are people of integrity following a religion of honor. Be a voice in your community and not just your religious community. Be a voice where it may not be quite so comfortable to speak out. We do have the power to change this, or at least to stand firmly against it.  Let this be one of the battles in which we prove ourselves worthy of Valhalla.

For those who wish to get involved but who don’t know where to start, I offer the following suggestions:

Anti-Bullying Network: http://www.antibullying.net/

Safe Schools Program: http://www.pflagnyc.org/safeschools

PFLAG: http://community.pflag.org/
Gay Straight Education Network: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/home/index.html
Safe Schools Coalition: http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/
It Gets Better Project: http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject
Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project: http://www.lambda.org/avp_gen.htm
National Suicide Hotline: http://www.suicide.org/gay-and-lesbian-suicide.html
Bullying.Org: http://www.bullying.org/

No action, no effort is too small save one: doing nothing at all. We truly can, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world. It begins with our willingness to act and moreover, with our unwillingness to remain silent. We live in Midgard. We are part of the human world. Let’s make it better.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    My apologies: I couldn’t find a rainbow Heathen symbol and I really thought the post needed a Pagan LGBT symbol of some sort….

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  • http://twilightandfire.wordpress.com Elizabeth

    Thank you for writing this. It needs to be said.

  • Ash Jao

    Well said Galina! I am very happy to see yet another way witches and heathens can agree! Thank you, it was well said.

  • Kauko

    Unfortunately, I can relate all too well to what these teens go through. I came out in my freshman year of high school back in the early 90′s in the South, and, of course, within a few days the whole school found out. After that I was regularly called ‘fag’ as I walked around the school, I lost a lot of friends, I had people photocopy anti-gay Bible verses and hand them to me. And I was lucky enough to never be physically attacked like so many teens are. But what I went through was enough that I often thought about suicide, luckily I never got to the point that I tried but still it was one of the darkest times of my life. It can be a very lonely experience for teens to come to terms with being gay and its very easy to feel like you have no one to turn to for support, to live in fear that if those around you (friends, family) find out they’ll reject you (my own father once remarked when I was a teenager that he would kick any of his sons out of the house if he found out they were gay, that’s a pretty tough thing to live with for a teen who is trying to come to terms with being gay). Luckily, in the year after I came out I became a part of a group of friends who were completely accepting of me. Several of them were Wiccan and it was my first exposure to Paganism, and, I think, it was one of the things that led me to explore it years later.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    As a heathen myself, I find my own position on this a conundrum. It is true, we are supposed to stand against injustice, and surely what has happened to these boys is just that. It is also true that we should stand up and protect our communities. However, the GLBT community is not the Heathen community, though there is some cross over.

    And how would you suggest we stand up to this injustice? If we took the historic method we would respond with violence just as violence is being done. The Author speaks of being worthy of Valhalla, but entrance bought with blood. It is the greatest warriors, who slay with skill and cunning, that dine at the All-Father’s tables. Pretty words and protests will do nothing to gain you entrance, and will have little effect on those who bully and murder.

    Now, I am all for the use of violence to defend the Heathen Community, should it come to that. However, I am loath to use such tactics for another community which I am unsure is truly willing to aid us, and which has members that view us as racists bigots and has members that are radically anti-heterosexuality, something that is very important to the Heathen community and its survival.

    As for the use of non-violent tactics, fine. I agree we should stand agianst intolerance. But I would rather see the Heathen Community stand outside the “sexuality” battle. We should be a neutral party that stands beyond “gender issues”, that stands for equality of everyone, and not go taking sides and alienating one side or the other. Those who attack homosexuals do so for many reasons. Some, though few would willingly admit it, might actually be valid. That is beyond my care, because that is not my fight. There is enough injustice against the Heathen Community now to fill hundreds of battlefields and requires so much of our strength that we shouldn’t be going out seeking battles that don’t directly effect us. Now, should the GLBT community decide to pay Heathen warriors to fight their battles, that would be one thing. But We look after Our Own First. Let the GLBT community see to theirs. Because harsh reality is, if they don’t have the strength to survive, that’s their problem. I won’t see us dragged down with them if that’s the case.

    I am sorry if my words offend. But the Truth is brutal and so is the world we live in. These deaths are a tragedy, but death is part of life. You want to live, you learn to fight, especially when you know people want you dead.

  • Krei

    Well said Galina. I think something like 1/3 of teen suicides are GLBTQQ youth and anti-gay bullying is insanely common. Its never been okay and never will. These attackers and bullies need to be shamed and called out for the bigots that they are.

    Heathen lore teaches that people are diverse in their make-up and experiences, and that value is to be found in all people. I wish that the Heathen community took that lesson more deeply to heart.

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  • Krei

    To Norse Alchemist,

    If you’ve read Eddic lore, have you actually thought about it and analyzed the lessons that the High Ones transmitted to us? There are core lessons there of people having different strengths and yet all people contribute and have value, showing kindness and hospitality to others, judging people by the sum of their deeds, and not idly sitting silent in the face of injustice. These are basic moral precepts clearly spelled out in the Havamal. These values at least are reflexive of the Heathenry that I practice and my understanding of what it means to live in thew with the High Ones.

    Yes there are in fact LGBTQ Heathens who are vital and active members of the general community (I won’t go outing people, but its not uncommon). I don’t know any gay people Heathen or otherwise who are anti-heterosexuals, WTF does that even mean? Its not as if LGBTQ people are spawned on a separate planet, they could just as easily be your children, nieces, nephews, relatives, friends, kindred members, etc… I have absolutely no idea how the mere existence of LGBTQ individuals threatens heterosexual desire among heterosexuals. Nobody is expecting you to march in Gay Pride parades, but when you see kids bullying others for being different, to step in and be a responsible adult and say something and (wo)man up and call out cruelty and injustice for what it is. That is a simple case of right action and should be a no-brainer to someone who claims to uphold Heathen thew.

  • Kauko

    “has members that are radically anti-heterosexuality, something that is very important to the Heathen community and its survival.”

    Using that logic, since there are Heathens (and many of them in my experience) who are ‘anti-homosexuality’ why should gay people stand up for Heathen rights? It seems like it would be a very sad world if everyone took on an outlook or ‘only my people’ and never stood up for the rights of their neighbors. Where would the civil right movement of decades past have gone if people who weren’t Black hadn’t stood up with Black Americans to try to end institutional racism and discrimination? And, as Krei points out, there are many gay Heathens so that makes the issue a part of the Heathen community whether you like it or not.

    And for the record, I have yet to ever meet a gay person who is ‘radically anti-heterosexuality’ and your saying that smacks of a desperate attempt to rationalize homophobic attitudes that exist among some in the Heathen community.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Permit me to respond, as I think some are taking my words out of context, or at least misunderstanding them. I’m not anti-homosexual. What I am going for is “Conservation of Energy.” There will always be injustice in this world. It is noble, to help the weak, but it can also be foolish. The sword that defends a hundred people ends up broken. The shield wall that stands together stands strong. We can’t solve their problems, and even if we could, it is Dishonorable to deny them the chance to grow strong and prove themselves. We protect our own, Straight or Gay. They are our kin, and it is our duty. Aid the GLBT community if you want, but remember that the Heathen community should be your first priority. All others are secondary. That is the only way well will survive and grow strong.

  • http://www.Patheos.com Star Foster

    “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” – Dante

    “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” — By Pastor Niemoller

    If I be foolish, I should always hope it is in attempts to defend the weak rather than protect the strong.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    The words of Christians have little effect on me. Their religion of slavery, weakness, inequality, bigotry, and martyrdom is not mine, and stands in direct opposition to everything that Heathenism stands for. It is by my gods and goddesses that I will be judged. If they feel that by focusing on the needs of my people above those of another that I deserve punishment, the I will go to Hel at peace, but I doubt that any of them would tell me I was wrong to place Heathens before all others, and Kin before the rest of the world.

    For want of a man, a ship was lost.
    For want of a ship, a village was lost.
    For want of a Village, a land was lost.
    For want of a land, a people was lost.
    For want of a people, the gods were lost.
    All because a man said he should fight the injustice of another people before his own.

  • Glenn

    If we do not at least try to help others today, how can we look the Gods in the eyes tommorrow. Helping those who are weak is the honorable thing to do. The Gods would turn their backs on us if we did not at least try to do something !

  • http://www.Patheos.com Star Foster

    Norse Alchemist,

    I’ve grown to a place where I am at peace with Christianity. My Methodist and Baptist neighbors didn’t tear down and burn our temples any more than I fed Christians to lions.

    But since you take umbrage with the source of my quotes, although their wisdom is sound, here’s what the Havamal has to say:

    “Happy is he who hath won him
    the love and liking of all;
    for hard it is one’s help to seek
    from the mind of another man.”

    I think the application of this to the matter at hand is if you do not lend aid to the GLBT community do not expect them to listen when you need their aid.

    “The unwise man thinks that he ay will live
    if from fighting he flees;
    but the ails and aches of old age dog him
    though spears have spared him.”

    My application of this: Avoiding the opportunity to take a stand for what is right may conserve resources now, but dying with regret is no honor.

    “He who giveth gladly a goodly life leadeth
    and seldom hath he sorrow;
    but the churlish wight is chary of all,
    and grudgingly parts with his gifts.”

    I don’t think this applies merely to material goods. Giving your support to worthy causes increases your reputation and ensures others will support your causes, reducing the sorrows you face.

  • rækjum kex

    Norse Alchemist: “Aid the GLBT community if you want, but remember that the Heathen community should be your first priority. All others are secondary. That is the only way well will survive and grow strong.”

    I guess I don’t really understand this perspective– it appears that you’re advocating not standing up against bad behavior because you don’t happen to be part of the major group being bullied or harassed. It’s fine to play the “family first” game, but it doesn’t mean that working to do the right thing and encouraging others to do the right thing ends with your own community; I may not be a part of the LGBT community or another community, but I still feel an obligation to speak out when I see wrongdoing in action. If we encourage children and adults not to bully each other for the sake of reducing suicides as a result of bullying, then why should we feel that it’s different for us not to speak out against bullying because we are not being bullied?

  • Glenn

    I can quote from the Eddas as well my friend ! From The insolence of Loki:

    Loki said:
    Bragi you have no horse to boast of
    or gold rings to give
    among the elves and and Aesir here
    none likes war so little or flees a fight so fast !

    If the fight scares you then do nothing !

  • William Hood

    Glenn:

    NorseAlchemist wasn’t quoting the Eddas. You’re also unlikely to convince him by quoting something Loki said, haha. ;-)

  • Jacquie M.

    Oh, I was not going to comment but Norse Alchemist…you crack me up! Seriously, I recall Ann Coulter made a remark that “Civil rights is for blacks, not for gays” As if there is no such thing as a gay black person (must add that I’m a heterosexual black Pagan woman) and since when does “civil rights” belongs to black Americans? Black Americans “own” The Civil Rights Movement not the word “civil rights” and surprisingly I noticed many African-American who are fundamentalist Christians didn’t’ catch on to that one for they are consumed with their own “lack of awareness” (use that phase since many get offended with the word ignorance which means the same thing).

    Similar to reading your reason of “less support” Are you telling me that there is no such thing as a Heathen who is gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual? Maybe one who is still in the “proverbial closet”? I agree with Keri on this one—what are you talking about? Do you even know exactly what you’re talking about? Not trying to be rude but… reading your response is similar to Christians who believe you can’t be a Christian and GLBT/LGBT? If you’re a Heathen and LGBT then you’re a Heathen and LGBT. If you’re a Christian who is LGBT than that is what you are. Nobody has the right to tell you differently (regardless what others say). Here which lays the trouble—we need to raise our children to define themselves and not permit others to define them.

    My heart goes out to these children or anyone who has experienced bullying and lack of community support. I can totally sympathize with my own experiences. I remember a close friend of mine in high school who was gay and telling him, “hey, at least you can hide the fact you’re gay. I wish I can, someday, hide the fact that I’m black” Yet, now grown up—I renege on my words to him. There is a reason for the skin that I’m in and a reason for LGBT— a test of our own humanity.

    Blessings

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Jaquie M. If you read my words, you will note that i said that we should aid those in our community REGARDLESS of their sexuality. Where you get the rest of you opinion of me, I can only guess that it comes from misunderstanding my words. I have no clue what Ann Coulter has to do with my statement. I never said you couldn’t be a Gay Heathen, nor that suck individuals were unwelcome. Please to not place words in my mouth. Nor imply I have hatred for some group I do not.

    Now, I wish to explain, because some people seem to think I am a coward for not wanting to get involved in a non-heathen based fight. The fact is, I am not a coward. I do not run from a fight, but I am approaching this from the mentality of a small force facing overwhelming odds. If I am a coward for choosing to pick my battles, rather than run around willy-nilly to fight every injustice in the world, then at least I am a smart coward. I suppose one could then consider Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, with their Greek allies, cowards, for fighting with two cliffs on their sides, rather than charging full tilt into the massive Persian army. Forgive me for having the mind of a man at siege-war.

    The man who stands at a strange threshold,
    Should be cautious before he cross it,
    Glance this way and that:
    Who knows beforehand what foes may sit
    Awaiting him in the hall?

  • Jacquie Georges

    @ Norse Alchemist: Thank you for explaining, again. I still don’t understand what you mean by a non-Heathen based fight (hence why I place Ann Coulter as an example). So, let me try to explain a bit my point of view.

    LGBT is sexuality (of course you know that), Heathenry is a faith/religion/way of life (LGBT is also a way of life). Therefore, being involved in the dialogue of anti-bullying anyone who is a LGBT is also getting involved in a dialogue to cease the bullying/torment of an LGBT Heathen. That is how I view it. Similar to a religious debate I took part several months back were Christian fundamentalist stated that marriage is a covenant of God. Which I agree but the Gods/Goddesses that I “serve” accept same-sex marriage (therefore, it infringes on my religious belief).

    I think the word “community” is a distraction for many. It separates LGBT from the rest of us and other groups that individual LGBT are also a part of (including religious affiliation). I have friends and family who are gay and lesbians who don’t identify themselves with the “community” for they have seldom friends who are LGBT most of their friends are heterosexual. They don’t attend Gay Pride Parades or go to gay bars.

    You have every right to choose what causes you should focus more upon, Norse Alchemist but to state “overall” (in the beginning) that this is not a Heathens fight is a bit bold (for you don’t speak for all Heathens. Which I noticed as you commented on—you went to state it is not YOUR fight personally and I honor that). No, it doesn’t make you a coward to choose what cause is more important to you, I totally agree with that.

  • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/ P. Suf. Viri. Lup.

    Norse Alchemist: what I object to in your initial statement is this:

    Those who attack homosexuals do so for many reasons. Some, though few would willingly admit it, might actually be valid. That is beyond my care, because that is not my fight.

    The main reasons people in general attack LGBTQ people is that three particular mainstream religions have a very large influence on over a third of the world’s population; and because they have holy books that contain statements that are perceived to be anti-gay, they feel they are doing the “work of God” by persecuting LGBTQ people. And while I know you say you don’t care what Christians say or think (or, presumably, Jews or Muslims), the plain fact of the matter is that these religions are behind all legal proscriptions against LGBTQ equality at present in every country where such still occurs, particularly in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also Russia and other places.

    So, I just want to know personally: do you think that’s a valid reason for attacking LGBTQ people? If not, what is a valid reason for doing so?

  • Laura Patsouris

    Thank you for this article…we all need to stand up and be counted when we see bigotry rear its ugly head…

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    P. Suf. Viri. Lup. You have hit upon one of the hearts of the matter. Much of the world is controlled by the monotheistic religions and they proclaim that homosexuality is wrong and they use this to validate their actions.

    Now, there is much talk that we must respect other religions and their rights to practice their religions. This is a big issue in the instance of the Park 51 Mosque (which many here and elsewhere in the pagan community said had a right to be built). Therefore, one can conclude that Pagans agree to recognize the Validity of the Mosque and its religion (even if said religion feels that Paganism and Homosexuality are sins worthy of death in its holy books). Therefore, if the religion is valid, it’s views on homosexuality must also be considered valid.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Now, we agree on the validity of other religions in the hopes that they will also recognize the Validity of our Religions. If we recognize the Validity of a Religion, and the Validity of its beliefs, can we then say that beliefs that don’t match up with our religion are Invalid? If we do declare them Invalid, then we open up the door for our own Ways to be declared Invalid as well. We might not like the views the monotheists have on homosexuality, but if we recognize the validity of their religion, we must recognize the validity of their beliefs, however distasteful we find them. Thus, their views on Homosexuality are “Valid.”

    If we want to do what most everyone here seems to think is the Right Thing and declare Hatred of Homosexual to be an Invalid belief, I think that would me we must be prepared to declare Invalid the belief systems behind them. Hence, we would be declaring openly that all Monotheistic religions, with their bigotry towards Polytheism, homosexuality, etc, to be Invalid.

    And I suspect most can think up the consequences to that action. That said, should such a thing be done, I will stand with my Pagan/Heathen community, come what may.

  • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/ P. Suf. Viri. Lup.

    Norse Alchemist: The monotheists have changed their beliefs on some matters previously. The Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qu’ran all don’t seem to have a problem with slavery, and yet that has changed. (Some might not be entirely happy with that, but oh well…) It would be possible for them to shift their beliefs about homosexuality, but they’ve been very slow to attempt it or prioritize it to this point–some groups more than others, some groups better than others, some groups not fully but better compared to some others, etc.

    I do think that their beliefs in relation to a lot of other matters are flawed, though, and that many of them are not correct in terms of my own experience and that of many of my co-religionists. If they want to believe some of these things, they can, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to believe as I wish and to live as I like. In the case of negative views of LGBTQ people, it does effect my ability to believe and live, since the lawmakers are generally from those religions and are thus making laws against full equality based on their flawed religious constructs. The LGBTQ youth suicide issue has been a very vivid example of how it has interfered with the ability to live of these young men in recent weeks.

    Had some of them lived to go to college and be out on their own, they could have ended up becoming pagans of some sort because of their own dissatisfaction with this disgusting aspect of their religions (i.e. LGBTQ hatred), or indeed any other theological matter that they found wanting.

    But, they never had the chance to do this, and never were able to know there were other options. By not speaking out against this issue in their own theologies, we are allowing them to spray root killer on an entire bed of plants that may contain flowers of paganism that have not even been recognized yet. I would maintain, therefore, that this is still our fight, even if you are not LGBTQ yourself (though, since I am, perhaps I have a more direct reason to fight than you do); and, that we jeopardize nothing by telling those groups who are virulently homophobic that they are wrong about this issue, for the sake of showing some of these youth that there are other (and, for them, better) options out there.

  • http://walkingthehedge.net/wildgeekhang/ Juniper

    I can support the LGBTQ rights movement by helping to create a Pagan & Heathen community that welcomes them and not condemns them.

    I can be an example of how a faith does not need to stick its nose in someone’s sexuality or gender but instead accepts them for how the gods made them.

    I can do my best to cut down on all kinds of bullying in the schools in my area, be they bullying any child for any reason.

    I can march with my LGBTQ friends on their Pride Day and they can go to ritual with me for Pagan Pride Day.

    I can be an example for the children in my Pagan & Heathen community, show them how to love someone regardless of sexuality or gender. Teach them to judge someone for their deeds and who they are as a person.

    I can attend the LGBTQ ritual held at the summer festival with my friends.

    I can gently pull aside a teenaged LGBTQ & Pagan or Heathen and say “It okay, I understand. I am bisexual, you are not alone. It gets better”


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