Indigenous Heathenry

"Like" the Patheos Pagan Page on Facebook to receive today's best commentary on Pagan issues.

Sometimes when you're talking about religion, the old technology was better. ~ Eileen Laufeyson

I am a Heathen, relatively devout in faith and practice (at least I try to be). I honor the Gods of the Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic peoples. I honor my ancestors. I pour out offerings to the land, the mountains, and the occasional tree. As a priest and shaman, I try to help others to do the same. I am Heathen and I am practicing the indigenous traditions of my ancestors. For those of us coming from Northern European roots, Heathenry (in all its glorious manifestations) is the contemporary adaptation of our indigenous ways. For those not coming from Northern European ancestry, you too, at one point in history, came from an indigenous polytheism.

Think about that for a moment.

If we go back far enough, all of us come from indigenous roots. At one point in our history, all of us had our tribes. We looked at and interacted with the world in a far different way. At one point, if we go far enough back, we all had our animist and polytheistic traditions, rooted in a bone deep recognition of the interconnectedness and sentience of the world around us, in reverence for the ancestors, for the land, and for the Holy Powers and an understanding of our own place in that mix. It may not have been perfect; it may not have been a golden age; but it was far more connected. Reverence was not passé. It was the natural, organic state of being, the natural and necessary way of interacting with the world at large and all the Powers that fill it.

Etymologically, the word "indigenous" means "native" or "innate." It is exactly this inborn naturity that we are referring to when we describe something as an "indigenous tradition." At its most basic, all of us come from somewhere. All of us come from a place, a culture, and a people who walked quite naturally alongside the unseen, the divine, and the mystical. The holy had a place in their lives and there was a culturally ingrained knowledge of how to interact and behave when confronted with it. Though many of us descend from multiple pathways of blood, from a diverse sampling of ancestors (may they all be hailed!), all of our ancestors spring at some point, from indigenous traditions. Heathenry is the contemporary expression of the indigenous traditions of the Scandinavian, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon peoples. These are the beliefs and practices derived from the natural ways of our ancient predecessors, who for millennia walked in close alignment with their worlds, their deities, and their dead.

Then something happened. Then monotheism came and we, fools that we were, bartered away our birthright. We abrogated our connections to our dead and our Holy Powers. We turned our back on our responsibilities to the land. We ate their poison, drank their Kool-Aid, and allowed the victors to write our histories. This was done so thoroughly that few of us coming from Northern European stock even remember that at one point we had tribes, that at one point we were an indigenous people too.

Then, in the true spirit of sharing (and yes, I mean this with utmost sarcasm), we turned around, came across the ocean, and did unto others exactly what was done to us. We looked upon the indigenous peoples here with the eyes of religious, economic, and political colonizers. We exterminated their traditions, cut them off from their dead, and bred slavery into their bones all in the name of Jesus (and, let's be honest, greed). Indigeny had become twinned in our collective minds with primitivism, lack of reverence, and savagery. We behaved accordingly.

Let me be very clear. The first thing monotheism (and colonialism) did was disconnect us from our ancestors, from our roots, from that precious, precious knowledge of who we are and where we come from. It gave us instead a filter of disconnection, repression, over-intellectualization, excessive stoicism, fear, greed, and confusion. It did this so well that, as I noted above, many of us don't even realize that we come from indigenous roots; we don't recognize the filter. Today many Heathens and Pagans talk about reconstruction and restoration, but what does that truly mean? I think reconnection is a far, far better word, and that reconnection begins with the dead. It begins with our willingness to work at that connection. Most of all, it begins with a return to our own indigenous worldview.

When non-monotheistic traditions are mentioned in the media, one often hears the term (if the reporter is being politically correct) "non-traditional religion." I eschew that term. Monotheism is very, very young in the broad spectrum of religion devolution. If you want tradition, let's look at animism and polytheism. We are the most traditional of religions. To say otherwise gives unearned legitimacy to the rites of the very system that destroyed our ancestral ways. To say otherwise makes it that much harder to reconnect and restore what was lost.