Happily Heathen: My Heathenry

Happily Heathen: My Heathenry September 23, 2016

The recent discussions around definition and limitations in Heathenry got me thinking about my own version of Heathenry. Last fall I wrote about why I love Heathenry and what is the heart of Heathenry. So, let me wrap it up and tell you a bit about what is my Heathenry.

What It Is and What It Isn’t

My Heathenry helps me honor and value my Swedish, Norwegian, and Germanic heritage. My Heathenry does not feel the need to exclude others or raise me above them due to my ancestry.

The author at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. Photo by author
The author at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. Photo by author

My Heathenry honors the virtues espoused in the Sagas and the Eddas and uses them as inspiration for my own values. My Heathenry does not give me an excuse me to wield these same virtues as weapons against other Heathens.

My Heathenry honors my Norse Gods and Goddesses in all of their multi-faceted glory–the well-known deities as well as the lesser known deities. The local ones and pan-Germanic ones. It does not flatten that rich religious and spiritual heritage into a puritanical Christian dichotomy. (I left that worldview behind years ago.)

Norse Myths written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
If the sheer variety of Aesir, Vanir, Jotnar, dwarves, elves, animals, named weapons, and miscellaneous unidentified entities shown on this illustration from d’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths is any indication of the complexity of the Norse culture, why should we try to make modern Heathen communities any less diverse / Image from the Book of Norse Myths, written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

My Heathenry honors my ancestors, local landwights, and other spiritfolk as worthy guides, protectors, and healers. My Heathenry is not limited to only the big-name Deities.

Panther Meadows, Mt. Shasta. Photo by author. “Here be some mighty landvaettir."
Panther Meadows, Mt. Shasta. Photo by author. “Here be some mighty landvaettir.”
Statue and picture of Freyr, a deity to whom the author is dedicated. / Photo courtesy of Kristen Nereis (used with permission)
Statue and picture of Freyr, a deity to whom the author is dedicated. / Photo courtesy of Kristen Nereis (used with permission)

My Heathenry values my personal relationship with several Gods. It does not give me the right to tell others that their relationships with their deities are “wrong” or, even worse, “not historically accurate”. (I’m a devotional polytheist—I believe that deities have individual agency, awareness, and agendas. I’ve yet to have any of Them ask me for my approval of Their decisions.)

My Heathenry attempts to celebrate the beautiful complexity and strength of the ancient Germanic religions. It does not rely on modern inaccurate, romanticized interpretations of “Viking” culture (extreme machismo or ethnic “purity”) as a basis for my religious beliefs and ethics.

This is my Heathenry as I choose to live  it. It is what works for me. There’s a wide variety within modern Heathen practice (as there was back in the day). I try to refrain from judging anyone else’s Heathenry as long as they are not using their “Heathen practice” as a cover for personal politics or power-plays.

My goal for Heathenry in the Future

Heathenry is not without its issues. Still, all things considered, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Heathenry, for me, continues to be an incredibly satisfying spiritual and religious practice. (It might not be your Heathenry, but as Laine Mardollsdottir explains, you’re not the boss of me and you’re doing it all wrong.)

Though I started my Heathen journey in grad school 17 years ago as part of a ethnographic exercise, I’m no longer an academic. I’m not a scholar of the modern Heathen religion, just a practitioner of it. 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 and experiences with the Gods, ancestors, and landspirits. I hope they share the knowledge they have gained in honoring them.  I hope that more and more new people are called to work with all of the Germanic Gods, both obscure and well-known, and to become inspired to create their own version of our tradition.

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.


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