I’ve been talking to and reading a lot recently from Heathens who have been around for a long time. Those who saw the beginnings, those who grew up as Heathenry has gained popularity and all kinds of new demographics, people who have lived the story of Heathenry in America.
These people talk a lot about communities. About how people of like minds come together, work together to build something others will want to be a part of. Those who I have talked to are largely frustrated by online Heathenry, and many consider the vitriol to be inherent in the medium.
I tend to disagree. I think there is a lot of power in online communities and communication, especially for those who do not have a local community to meet face-to-face and develop relationships with. Even though I have wonderful and hugely knowledgeable people locally, I still consider the internet to be a fantastic resource where I’ve developed friendships with amazing people.
But when I look at the future of Heathenry (at least in America), I don’t look at our online groups. I think the key to our tradition’s future lies in local groups, in face-to-face interactions, in the joy that comes from toasting the Gods and ancestors with one another.
When I go to a Sumbel run by Nebraska Heathens United, there are people there who have been Heathen for decades. There are those who have been Pagan or Wiccan for longer, who come to support us and show their solidarity. There are children running around, babies sitting on their parents’ laps, growing up with Heathenry and toasting a beloved ancestor with unsure words.
Every day, when I give gifts to Freya and draw a daily rune, my daughter comes with me to the altar and draws her own. When I stand at the hearth and offer to my ancestors for the healing of some small sickness in my children, they see and know, and it becomes part of who they are. When I go out and give gifts to the land wights, I tell my children what I am doing. They have started to give their own gifts.
This is the future of Heathenry. Even if my children do not grow up to honor the Gods (and realistically, they probably won’t), these things are a part of them. It is my hope they will always have a fondness for and remember their ancestors, appreciating those who came before in a way that doesn’t even occur to others. It is my hope they will always be good to the land around them, and appreciate that they are but a small part of a huge ecosystem.
There will be those raised in Heathenry who do choose to continue to pursue it, and they will be a huge part of our future, influencing the direction Heathenry goes in for decades to come. There will be those who find it young, who are taken into the community and will learn and grow in the company of good friends. There will be those who find it later in life, who will see this amazing tapestry of ages and backgrounds and decide that Heathenry is pretty awesome because our communities are so great.
This is the future I see for Heathenry, when I look at these small local groups that interact consistently, that promote frith and friendship over divisive lines and labels. I can only hope that this is the face of Heathenry that others will see as the years go on.