Heathens can be an off-putting bunch. This week, a friend of mine shared a project he was really excited about in a Heathen group that’s generally very open-minded, and was attacked and belittled for his opinions.
There was only one person doing the attacking, and he received a fair bit of ire in response, but the whole incident left such a bad taste in my mouth. It seems so typical of online Heathenry (except often the attacking voices are far more numerous).
Awhile back, I wrote a post about why I am a Heathen. There you will find the reason I choose to stick with the label of Heathen, despite what some of the more fundamentalist among us may think about me and my practices. In many ways, it is an act of rebellion, of pushback against the idea that Heathenry should be an entirely mystic-free, UPG-less zone.
But that’s not why I stick with it. I call myself Heathen online and deal with the trolls to be a voice, but that’s not why I practice my spirituality. That’s not why I honor my ancestors, the land around me, and the Gods of Northern Europe. It’s that connection that I’d like to talk about; the reason that I still walk this path.
As a fledgling Pagan over a decade ago, I latched onto the idea of the Goddess personified in the Earth. I had experienced Her presence, especially in the wild places, and it filled my heart and soul – not with joy, but with a wonder and awe. She isn’t exactly Mother Earth as we envision Her today; She is ancient and powerful and a little terrifying.
As a practicing Wiccan-ish solitary, there was always that disconnect for me. I mostly honored my local land, and my Goddess who was “supposed” to be sweet and kind and all-loving most definitely was not any of those things. At the time, I wasn’t aware that there was any other kind of Paganism – this was all there was, so I made do. But it was an awkward fit.
Coming to ADF, and then specifically to my own ADF-ish Heathenry, I had much the same rush of feelings that I did when I first found out Paganism was a thing. Here were some polytheistic people, believing in the existence of the Gods, giving Them gifts.
I was introduced to the concept of land wights, which as an animist I had always instinctively felt but had never encountered in my narrow view of Paganism. I first became aware of the importance of ancestors to the ancients, an area of my background I had always felt so conflicted about and was thrilled to examine through the lens of spirituality.
My local land is filled with spirits. There’s an oak in my backyard that is tall and straight and strong, and he and I are on good terms. There’s a maple tree in my front yard that’s taller than any other in the neighborhood, with a trunk so thick I can barely reach halfway around it. She is awe-inspiring, full of wisdom and a good friend.
There is a creek across from my house, with ducklings in the spring. In the summer fireflies dance there, and frogs sing. Last winter, I saw a mink bounding through the snow there as I walked my daughter to school. I pick up trash there every week, and sometimes it feels like sitting down and braiding the hair of a really good friend.
My grandfather passed away last summer, and I could not internalize or accept my grief until I spent the night in vigil on the earth where his ashes had been scattered. Now I pour him Crown Royale or Southern Comfort once a week and thank him for all the wonderful things he’s done for me, when he was here physically and now that he is here in spirit.
When I lost two darling babies before they could ever live, I broke down in tears and begged my great-grandmother to care for them, to watch over them as she had her own babies. And of course she did. She loves me because she is my grandmother, and my sweet babies are like her own. I bake her bread to thank her. I leave lollipops for the little ones.
These things are why I am still a Heathen. Honoring the land and my ancestors is not just some religious thing that I do, like a Christian who goes to church on Sundays and forgets about it the rest of the week. It’s a part of who I am.
The presence of my ancestors, my gifts and acknowledgement of them, have saved me many times when I thought I was broken. My relationship with the land around me, with the spirits that dwell everywhere, has been a refuge and a comfort and more wonderful than I can say. That’s why I am still Heathen.