Happily Heathen: Why I am “Happily Heathen”

Happily Heathen: Why I am “Happily Heathen” August 28, 2015

As many people have no doubt have noticed, the theme for this month on the Patheos Pagan channel is “Why I am still…” (insert tradition of your choice). For my version of this, I had intended to include why I am also “Happily a Devotional Polytheist”, but my reasons for being Happily Heathen ended up being more than enough fodder for one post. (Also, I touched on some of my reasons behind why I chose Devotional Polytheism in my previous post at Patheos, here.)

Viking Age jewelry from Birka, at the Swedish HIstory Museum / Cara Freyasdaughter
Viking Age jewelry from Birka, at the Swedish History Museum / Cara Freyasdaughter

Every Heathen’s reasons for choosing Heathenry are different: Alyxander  Folmer  of Wyrd Words argues that Heathenry is a “religion of questions” and supports a skeptical, questioning attitude. Molly Khan from Heathen at Heart, talks about how the Heathen worldview supports her connection to the land, the ancestors, and the Gods.  As for me, I have a ton of reasons–that is why I call my column “Happily Heathen”, after all.

Heathenry is Awesome

Due to this, I’ve decided to make this post a list. I’ll call it my “Why Heathenry is Awesome” list. While you go through this, please keep in mind that I’m not saying that other Pagan traditions don’t have these qualities. I’m just most familiar with Heathenry, and I know Heathenry has ’em.

So without further ado, here are the reasons that, fifteen years later, I’m still Happily Heathen:

  • There is so much to learn. There so many places that one can really delve deep into this tradition–on academic, experiential, artistic, and magical levels. Also, many  relevant and useful things are still being discovered by archaeologists, scientists, and linguists every day. It’s very satisfying to know that I will never run out of ways to grow and change in this tradition.  As we say (only somewhat facetiously) “Asatru/Heathenry is the religion with homework!”
Maynard, Scott. "Those in Glass Houses." Happle Tea. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015. http://www.happletea.com/>.
Maynard, Scott. “Those in Glass Houses.” Happle Tea. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015. <http://www.happletea.com/>.
  • The Norse Gods. I love ’em. So complex, so human. So tragic, inspirational, hilarious, and fascinating. They don’t take any shit. They continue on in the face of certain doom with a lust for life and all that is in it. And, in my experience, They are still very interested and active in the modern world.
  • We focus on creating community, as well as honoring the Gods, ancestors, and land spirits. High-powered energy work is great, but that’s not really the goal of most Heathen events. My beau, a relatively new Heathen who’s had decades of experience watching Pagan in-fighting, has pointed out that in his experience, most Pagan groups tend to focus more on ritual and less on community. I’ve been embedded in the Heathen world for so long that it hadn’t occurred to me that other traditions might not make this one of their top priorities.( “What do you mean, there isn’t a potluck?!”)
  • Our ritual style is “low-church”. You can create detailed, heavily scripted rituals if you want, but it’s just not necessary. Mainly, our rituals just boil down to toasting the Gods and having a potluck. (Also, wearing ritual garb is strictly optional. I just like wearing my Viking apron dress.)
  • We tend to be practical and get shit done. For example, Heathens have been filling many of the staffing needs for PantheaCon for years. Generally, if Heathens say that they will do a Thing, they do the Thing. “You are your deeds” being a key part of our worldview.
Runestone from Gotland, Sweden. Odin and Sleipnir / Cara Freyasdaughter
Runestone from Gotland, Sweden. Odin and Sleipnir / Cara Freyasdaughter
  • A version of this religion actually existed at one point in time. Heathenry, in all of its forms, is based on religious beliefs and practices which flourished for hundreds of years up until the end of the Viking Age (and, in some places, beyond then as well). During that time, they developed complexity, nuance, and practical, day-to-day relevance. (Maybe I’m just biased because I originally came at Paganism from an academic perspective, but for me, this has always been a huge draw.)
  • Finally, there’s room for almost everyone at our table–polytheists; archetypists; scholars; mystics; aetheists. I explain this diversity to newcomers by saying that two of our core Heathen concepts are Hospitality and Frith (“peaceful actions and words between attendees”). (The only ones who should have no seat at Heathen theological table, in my opinion, are those who bring in bigotry and external political agendas.)

This is not to say that we all agree on and get along everything. Whenever you have two Heathens together, you’ll get three opinions. Heathens are fiercely independent; that’s just part of the overall our mindset. Also, Wiccans are not the only groups that have had flame wars–we Heathens have our curmudgeonly Lore-thumpers (kind of like Bible-thumpers, but in alliterative verse) and occasional flame wars over whether a given person is living up to Heathen Values ™.  And don’t get us started on UPGs (Unsubstantiated/Unverified Personal Gnosis; ie, insights you’ve had into the details of the religion which are not specifically attested in the Lore); or, even worse, Loki. (Nothing gets Heathens arguing like Loki. As true now as it was in the Eddas.)

Still, all things considered, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Heathenry, for me, continues to be an incredibly satisfying spiritual and religious practice.

Where will Heathenry go in the future?

I’m no longer a scholar of the Heathen religion, just a practitioner. So while I don’t know where Heathenry is headed, I can tell you what I hope will happen in Heathenry in the future, and what I myself am working to bring about.

I hope that the religion continues to grow, with more public Heathen temples and shrines opening up across the world. I hope that more practitioners write about their love for the Gods, ancestors, and landspirits, and the knowledge they have gained in honoring them.  I hope that more and more new people are called to work with all of the Norse Gods, both obscure and well-known, and to become inspired to create and carry on their own version of our tradition. And I hope that, as a result of bringing back some of this old knowledge and wisdom into our modern world, all of our lives become richer. I know my life has been better off because of it.

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All photos courtesy of the author.

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