Last Friday I ran an article from a good friend of mine, Náf Andrewson. He wrote about his attendance and workshop at our local Pagan Pride Day, which I thought was good, and I was excited to run a guest post. But there were some people who were put off by this article, feeling it encapsulated the toxic attitudes that I often talk about harming the Heathen community.
Laine over at Pagan Church Lady summarizes her feelings in So Maybe I’m a Really Bad Heathen, which I completely understand. If it were an anonymous face on the internet writing this, I might feel exactly the same way. But I know Náf – I have shared horn with him in sumbel, I share leadership with him, I have spent time in his home and accepted his hospitality, and these things go so far towards understanding.
For instance, I know that the reason Náf felt uncomfortable at Pagan Pride was not because he is uncomfortable around Pagans, but because he was concerned about misrepresenting Heathenry (and facing the attendant pushback that might come from not representing Heathenry exactly the way others would). It is a manifestation of the bully culture of some of Heathenry, not a continuation of it.
What this really got me thinking about is the practice of trying to walk the middle path, or finding a common ground between the many diverse parts of Heathenry. I’m not talking about different traditions like Forn Sed or Theodism, but different ideas of how to “do” Heathenry – the dichotomy of woo vs. the rejection of sharing mystical experiences, Folkish vs. Universalist, an LGBT accepting view vs. those who are uncomfortable with LGBT people in Heathenry.Even in writing this list, I face conflicting feelings: do I write about these views as I feel about them, or how they would represent themselves? Do I call the folkish view racist – I believe it is, but it’s also such an alienating word, used at people who generally have no intention to be racist. Do I walk the middle ground, or take a stand on what I know to be right?
In practice, taking a “middle” stance isn’t so much standing at the center, as it is catering to and allowing a loud fringe an even louder voice. I hate to use a political metaphor, but it’s a lot like the Republican party – a majority of reasonable voices are drowned out by the incredibly loud and politically active tea partiers. This has steadily pulled the party farther and farther from ‘center-right’, as candidates cater more and more towards those fringe voices.
This is what has happened to me as I try to navigate the treacherous waters of online Heathenry. I want to write about my experiences, I want to stand up for things I believe are right, but I find myself silenced (or at least subdued) by my thoughts of what others might think. I believe in frith, in maintaining peaceful discourse, but I also believe there is room within that to say “that attitude is damaging”.
To those who do wish to walk that line, to try to find a common understanding between those many diverse points of Heathenry, I applaud your efforts. I will occasionally join you. I will also caution you – it is a difficult line to walk, and it is very easy to tip over to one side or the other while still believing you are in the center.