Today’s article is a guest post written by my good friend Náf Andrewson of Three Wells Kindred, one of the founders of Nebraska Heathens United. He has been Heathen for twenty years, and focusing on the reconstructionist method for the past five; he also trained in firefighting and worked in corrections for five years as well. This past weekend, he stepped up to have a booth and present a workshop at Pagan Pride Day Omaha representing Heathenry and Nebraska Heathens United; I’ll let him tell you about it!
Giving Heathens a voice at Pagan Pride Day Omaha
First I would like to thank Molly for allowing me to write this guest post to her blog. I write to a regional audience normally, so this is a first in addressing a wider, general audience. She and I do not always agree, and I have seen her grow into the Heathen worldview tremendously since we first met. I still feel that blogs, and ‘online Heathenry’ is not real – just an exchange for ideas and information and nothing more. When used correctly the internet is a great tool to learn data, and contact people to meet in person later. Unfortunately it is also full of bad information, both purposefully and unintentionally.
I ran the informational booth for Heathenry at Pagan Pride Day in Omaha on August 22nd, and did a talk about Heathenry, Blóts and Sumbel. This was my first experience doing so, and I admit to having a slight agenda in doing it. Schedule conflicts left me being the only full member of my kindred (Three Wells Kindred) able to attend, and extended members of our developing tribe, such as Molly and our friend, Isa were running their own booths or the event itself. I fell back on my experiences in firefighting training with public safety seminars, and training new correctional officers in corrections to interact with those with questions.
I attempted to keep my informational booth as generic as possible. Of my entire shelves of books on history, sagas, Eddas, postmodern cultural examinations, and books by Heathens I brought a scant few. I brought my own personal items such as my idols of the Gods – a post-modern, but not “dungeons and dragons” type often seen, that I keep all over the house (they make great bookends) and on occasion, my personal altar. Along with altar tools I have had, and used from time to time for Blóts and Fainings, and one of my many horns. A hammer made by a friend out of a hardware store hammer – something that always makes me smile to myself when I see practical tools repurposed for an altar. I left the objects to venerate my ancestors – tools and instruments they used in their lives, and their pictures at home. I mentioned these to people, but feel displaying ‘my heathenry’ would distract from my purpose and these are highly personal.
The books I chose to display were important to me, as there have been a lot of what I have called “UPG Tomes” released on the topic, it is hard to suggest many. I kept them separated by Lore and practice. For the Lore books I had a copy of Kevin Crossley’s Norse Myths (personal favorite) Beowulf, Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, H.R. Ellis Davidson’s Myths and Gods of Northern Europe – I brought my Nook with Road to Hel and Culture of the Teutons on it in case I needed to show it someone, but did not display them – though each person I spoke with I brought them up, and how they are free online. I have yet to buy printed editions for my own reasons, but I may relent on those. I left my book of Icelandic Sagas, Grimm’s four volumes of Teutonic Mythology, Simek’s A Dictionary of Northern Mythology and others at home. Lady with a Mead Cup is out on loan, along with a few others. The practice side was a bit harder for me as I feel most books written by Heathens tend to be too biased, inaccurate or have so many “but..” when suggesting them. I examined what I had and kept more respected titles by other critical minds and my kindred. Our Troth Volume 1 (as well as volume 2 – it can argued over, but I felt fine with it), Gundarsson’s Elves, Wights and Trolls, Wodening’s We Are Our Deeds, A Practical Heathens Guide to Asatru by Patricia Lafayllve – a new book for me which I feel is one of the better 101 types of books around, she cites many sources in each chapter and emphasizes the worldview and reconstruction method ideas heavily, and is upfront with her own opinion on items. Words for Warriors as suggested by a few military Heathens and Pollington’s Meadhall, whom my kindred had taken notes for our Sumbel from. All these items are from my personal collection, and though not complete I am working on obtaining more as time and funds become available.
When the Nebraska Heathens United project had started we had created a simple information brochure, one that I feel needs to be updated greatly after reviewing for print. On there we listed sources for beginners; Norse Mythology Blog, Óðrœrir Journal and a few other good beginning resources to the culture. I also included the TheTroth.org, as I admit to my bias, however for those transitioning from Paganism to Heathenry, I feel they are a easier and more gentle source of information. Full disclosure, I recently became Steward for Nebraska in the Troth and am in the Lore program as well.
My purpose was simple; represent Heathenry at this event and make the distinct voice of all of Heathenry clear compared to other Pagan religions. Politely explain, how we do not see ourselves as another Pagan religion, but are different – though we share some similarities. Not project my own UPG in explaining Heathenry, and destroy the stereotypes of racism and radicalism some have of us in both Paganism and our over-culture. I attempted to be as informative and diplomatic as possible, but also light hearted and approachable as much as I could. I felt uncomfortable being at the event, as I personally cringe sometimes when I see or hear of other Heathens representing the worldview and end up making a mistake, or adding to stereotypes. (I did jokingly ask at the opening if I am allowed to loot and pillage the other booths, I was told no.)
Posting to my own social media that I was here, I had some Heathens I knew in the area come by to see and chat (I live over an hour away from Omaha). They complimented me on my writings I have done for NHU, and knowing how staunch their kindred is I took this as a high praise. I made a joke I am just trying to be a good ‘Heathen Diplomat’ and discussed items I would go over in my scheduled talk. One member of their kindred was able to attend, and praised it as a good talk for a Pan-Pagan crowd.
I was also able to speak to local vendors on good titles to carry. Outside of the Lafayllve book, our Troth Vol 1, We are Our Deeds, and other more lore based books such as titles by Davidson, Culture of the Teutons and the Eddas/Sagas. Only two titles I advised against, as they are themselves admitted to not being Heathen but “Northern Tradition Paganism” and seem to be on shelves. There are many other reasons to not suggest them, but from a Heathen perspective these books are often despised in general. I controlled an outburst when a young lady showed me she had just recently purchased them.
When it came time to talk to the crowd, I was nervous. Molly Khan assisted me, as did Isa from NHU on my talking points if I lost track. I had not prepared very well for my workshop, I did not bring enough cider – as alcohol is not allowed in city parks – for all those who came to the talk. I made a quip that this was going to be a ‘light sumbel’, or a watered down sumbel compared to NHU’s ‘Open Sumbel’ concept for demonstrative, informal and participation and practice purposes. We were only able to do a single round with those who wished to participate. I was told later I had one of the largest crowds come for my workshop.
I will sum up my talk as briefly as I can. I went over the brief history of Asatru, and now Heathenry in America. Its influence from Iceland, and how from the beginning the early Asatru founders in America had borrowed heavily from their own backgrounds of Wicca and Catholicism. Items such as the Nine Noble Virtues, Hammer Rite, and a few others that fell out of favor recently. How what started as just Asatru has expanded to include other religions and approaches such as Theodism, Urglaawe, Forn Siðr, among others. I spoke of the reconstructionist method, and how it was neglected for the first 30 years it seems, and recent journals such as Óðrœrir journal and a few writings by Bil Linzie have attempted to approach Heathenry with a scholarly, reconstructed view without the influence of other cultures, religions or ideas. I explained we seek a ‘worldview’, and do not consider ourselves Pagan. I used an analogy; of Judaism and Christianity – Heathenry, like Judaism is based on a specific culture, for a specific region, with specific traditions and ideas. Paganism much like Christianity, though similar in some areas, has additional ideas not found in the prior, and is opened ‘universally’ to all cultures. My notes were mere discussion points, and not written statements, so I didn’t express this as well as I had hoped.
I went into topics such as a Kindred – a family like unit of oathed members, sometimes called a tribe, sometimes tribe is used for a network of Kindreds bonded by a cause or region. The roles often found within these Kindreds and tribes. The concepts of Thews, Frith vs Grith, topics heavily making the rounds on internet discussions. I spoke of the ‘Lore’ and its sources, Ørlög and Wyrd, wights, Landvættir, and the reconstruction method. I also went into UPG, CPG and MUS (Made up “stuff”), the frustration of early works by contributors and their UPG being injected into the ‘Lore’ which has caused many mixed messages, and turned into CPG. How the reconstructionist method has been emphasized these past few years out of this frustration, and it is now considered tacky or tasteless to express one’s own UPG outside of one’s kindred or friends (sorry Molly). How MUS is a derogatory term for UPG, but I reserve it for dangerous ideas such as the radical racists. I joked if all Heathens were supposed to be racist, then I am not very good at it with a Puerto Rican best friend, half Japanese fiance, and my first on screen crush as a child being Tootie from Facts of Life. I advised we do have a Folkish view on Heathenry and by contrast a universalist view, and though Folkish in and of itself is not racist, sometimes those who are racist claim to be Folkish, but this, among many things is an inner debate Heathens seem to enjoy having. I spoke of how one does not convert or just become Heathen, but it is a process of adopting a worldview, how one matures into it. How often a Heathen will look back at what they said and did years ago and be embarrassed – or else they are not growing.
I moved the talk to the debated term Blóts, and Fainings. I advised of the debate – that Blóts require blood from a sacrificed animal, which is later consumed by the kindred or tribe. Fainings would be offers without blood. Molly and I have debated this, and I am sure it will continue on for a few years to come among Heathens. Blóts, Fainings and Sumbel are topics I am not comfortable doing a presentation on, as my kin, Todd is often the one taking the lead on these subjects. As he exudes more ‘feeling’ to the rites than my factual approach to items (or as I joke, he is “the Dude” to my Walter) however I did my best, Molly and Isa provided examples done within NHU and Kindred gatherings we have had. Why we Blót, when we Blót, and the tools used for different Blóts. I spoke of the Sumbel, how it binds those together within a kindred or tribe, how within a Kindred the role of the Thule to guard over the words spoken at the Sumbel.
I then promoted our project within Nebraska Heathens United. I had witnessed for years many kindreds have ‘fosters’ or ‘potentials’ join them for highly personal rites such as the Blót/Faining and Sumbel, only to have the chemistry not mix. Of my time working in corrections and knowing more in prison than without locally. NHU’s purpose was to display the core concepts of Heathenry, open to the public, to teach those curious, Norse Pagans either seeking a more Heathen worldview and allow other Heathens to meet and decide if they wish to form a bond, and to promote a localized version of Heathenry as it was done traditionally in the past in the different countries and regions of the world. Our central event, our ‘Open Sumbel’ concept – a display of the ideas and concepts within the rite that allows attendees to participate, who over time our regular attendees have learned to enjoy and feel a bond with each other. This has helped us develop a tribe of sorts in our area, and many close friendships have formed, as well as kindreds. Due to health concerns, we hand out cups, and have two ladies or “Valkyries’ fill the cups for others to drink when toasting, and our signals for ‘more mead’ or ‘I would like to toast’. One horn for mead, one for non-alcoholic cider or honeyed water. We’re still working on full details of how it works, and we learned much in the 3 to 4 years we have done this.
I closed with my quip ‘light sumbel’, with my limited cider, the many people who wanted to make a toast, boast, oath, or hail a Norse god or ancestor. It gave the idea of the rite, without it being the actual rite.
In conclusion, in America, our current version of Heathenry is about 45 years old. It is currently in its adolescence stages of rebelling against its Pagan influenced roots. We have argued and defined what is we do, how we do things, and how we are different than Pagans. If we wish to be acknowledged as something other than ‘another Pagan religion’ we need open a dialogue with those we are categorized with inside of Paganism in a respectful as possible manner. We have our Lore, we have our own customs, we have our methods, we will constantly be bickering and arguing with one and another over this source, and that practice and this idea. However, I do not feel that in America we will find this complete exclusion, as our over-culture enjoys placing everything into neatly made categories. At best, we will be added to the term Pagan with Paganism and Heathenry side by side, but different in details. The reconstruction method and its contributors have worked hard to formalize a core within Heathenry, to create a set of standards, and no matter which direction one approaches Heathenry, this standard will help in making our distinction known.
I also do not pretend or think what I said and did at this event is anyway new or unique. It has been done for years, by others, sometimes better, sometimes worse. We still have a lot of growth, and the popularity of Heathenry caused by pop-culture in Lord of the Rings movies, Game of Thrones, comic book depictions of our Gods, the show Vikings – and the pretty men who act in them, despite the glaring inaccuracies will continue to contribute to our growth – despite how shallow it may be at times. It is up to us mature Heathens to guide those curious, those seeking from their heart our Heathen ways, and let them grow and continue the way of our ancient ancestors.