Being Yourself – Not Always The Easy Path.

Being Yourself – Not Always The Easy Path. June 9, 2010

I have a story to tell.

It is not an easy story.  I don’t like this story, and I don’t want to tell it; I tend to avoid it, skip over it, make light of the details.  But I feel it is the right thing to do, for the Pagan community at large, and the Heathen community in specific.

But first, some of my background.  (I promise, this is information relating to my story.)

I first became a Heathen in college; I had a Heathen friend, B., who invited me to all the Heathen gatherings.  Since I was(and am) a curious person, I went.  Eventually, I did two things:  I started dating my friend B., and I became a Heathen.  I went through my initiation and my oath, and was accepted into a Kindred.*

Things went well for me in the Kindred, for about a year.  I did not agree with all of their policies and beliefs, but for the most part we agreed on the important things.  They treated me very well, like family.  I still long for those days.  I cherished the ties I had with these people.  They were the supportive extended family I never had.

As I grew into myself as a new Heathen, I came to know a few things.  At first, Odin was interested in me, but I would not be his.  It took me a while, but we came to an understanding, of sorts. We get along, and I like him – but I’m not one of his warriors.  Instead, it was Freya, who claimed me as her own.

If any of you have ever been a devotee of a goddess of love (or lust, as the case may be…), you will have a decent understanding of how kooky my life can sometimes get.  For the rest of you, let me say – being Freya’s has interesting side-effects.  For example, if you are lead to do something that may be detrimental to what you consider your love life, and you don’t do it…well, you may find yourself doing it anyway, in a highly convoluted manner.  I don’t find Freya to be a particularly forceful personality, but she is persistent and insistent, and in my life, she always gets her way in the end.  Sometimes with strange consequences.  (There is a reason that my relationships today are open relationships.  It helps tremendously, with cutting down on some of the unintended side-effects from doing Freya’s work.)

After a year of being in my Kindred, a few things happened all at once, in my life.  I broke up with my boyfriend B. (also a Kindred member; yes, it got awkward, to say the least), came out of the closet as queer to the general public, and began dating a woman.  Not long after, I had my first devastating break-up, with that woman.  All these things led me to a very bad part of my life, and a quasi-breakdown.

However, Freya had plans for me.  One of the Kindred men, C., had his eye on me.  I did not know this, at first.  C. invited me to go camping with him, solo, and I agreed, to get out of my own head.  We went camping.  We ended up having sex.  C. was worried about my emotional and mental state after that weekend, but he lived far away from me, so he told a few Kindred members who lived in my town to please keep an eye on me.  They wondered why in the hell C. would know anything about my mental state.

Then, the crap hit the proverbial fan.

Now, before I get to the crap-slinging part, let me fill you in on some key details.  First, unknown to me at the time, there had been one (if not several) Kindred members who was referring to me as a “genetic dead end,” since I was dating a woman (never mind the fact that we had several sterile men and women in the same Kindred).  They were very negative about my sexual orientation being anything other than straight, although they did not say this to my face.    Especially since my sexuality is fluid, I can only imagine they thought I was refusing to be with the males in the Kindred to spite them or something, which was far from the case.  Second, the man I’d had sex with, C., was married.  This I did know.

I know we all have complicated and possibly very emotional opinions on whether or not it is okay for spouses to have sex outside of their marriage.  I lay these facts out, not to “defend” myself in this situation, but to be very clear about exactly what happened in this particular circumstance.

A.  C. had been having issues with his spouse for years, the main issue being that he was Heathen, and his wife was Christian, and very upset that he was trying to influence his children with the Heathen religion.  She would not let them have anything to do with the Kindred.  He tried anyway; I know they fought about this regularly.  C. was considering divorce.

B.  During the camping weekend, we had sex once.  Before, during, and after sex, C. was speaking about his wife.  I spent a good majority of the weekend playing devils’ advocate regarding C.’s opinion of his wife’s behavior, and asking him to reconsider his preconceived notions of her behavior.  In essence, I argued her side, although I did not find either of them to be completely in the right or in the wrong.

C.  This couple, as far as I am aware, is still married.  They were, the last time I spoke with C.  I sincerely believe that my presence that weekend helped C. reevaluate his life, and his marriage, in a positive way.

Now, let me be very clear about where I stand on this issue.  I don’t “blame” Freya for any bad decision or one-night-stand that I might later regret.  I do not invoke Freya’s name in this lightly.  I do not always believe that having sex outside of your marriage is an okay thing to do; nor do I believe it is a necessarily wrong thing to do.  But in this case, I truly believe that Freya influenced this situation.  I believe C. would likely have had sex with someone else, if not me, outside his marriage; he was frustrated and feeling very under-appreciated.   I believe the fact that I was Heathen and the fact that I knew both C. and his wife was instrumental in letting me question what was really happening in his relationship – whether C. really wanted to get a divorce, or whether there was a way to resolve some of their issues.  Do I believe that Freya’s hand was the reason all this happened?  Absolutely.  I think it was worth it, too.  But, as I said, sometimes there are unintended consequences that come along, when doing Freya’s work.

When the other Kindred members found out what had happened, the entire Kindred was whipped into an uproar.  There was talk of kicking me out immediately.  One of my best female friends, U., was also in the Kindred, and she stuck up for me.  (For this, and other imagined wrongs, U. was eventually kicked out of the Kindred, but that is another story.)  Another male friend of mine, S., also stuck up for me, so it was arranged that the Kindred had an emergency meeting in order to deal with the fall-out of the situation, instead of kicking me out without even letting me have a say.

We met.  In essence, I was slut-shamed.  One of the married women pulled me aside and gave me a talking-to that basically blamed me for the entire situation.  She said I had disrespected her own marriage.  She said a lot of things.  I was forced to defend myself against most of the Kindred, those who were at the meeting.  I was made to apologize, publicly.  C. did not receive any disciplinary action, as far as I am aware.  He was there for all of this, no doubt as vastly uncomfortable as I was.  C. did probably make an apology, but I know that in no way was he grossly humiliated in the way that I was, in front of my Kindred.  C. did also personally apologize to me later, for dragging us into the entire mess.  It’s not that he let me take all the blame – it’s that all the blame, from other members of the Kindred, was directed onto me, instead of both of us.  Probably because I was single, and definitely because I was a woman, and I “should have known better.”  (Go here for more information on slut-shaming:       http://www.feministing.com/archives/021069.html.         Read into the body of the article for a better understanding; it’s not a perfect definition, but you’ll get the general idea.)

I am sad to say that many members of the Kindred broke away from the group, because of this situation.  My female friend U. and I both left, for starters.  I felt too uncomfortable to stay, and she was kicked out.  The man who defended us both, S., left out of disgust at the entire situation.  C. left, for personal reasons.  I don’t know the rest of his side of the story.  I hope he is still together with his wife, but I don’t know.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this situation.  It happened 5 years ago.  I am not in contact with the Kindred that essentially abandoned me.  I do hear about them from time to time, but none of them have tried to contact me.  I have found this whole thing to be heartbreaking, shocking, sad, and angering.  I don’t believe what happened was fair, to any of us who became involved.  I certainly believe the “unruly” females, U. and I, were punished the most.  I have plenty of problems with this.

For starters, I found that the Kindred’s reaction came from a very oddly Christian moral standpoint.  (I am pretty sure the word “sin” was mentioned.)  It felt as if I’d done something wrong in a church and was being shamed for it.  I’m not bashing Christianity here, so much as I’m saying that if I’d agreed with those moral standpoints, I would have stayed in the Christian church, not spent considerable time and effort becoming Heathen.  Not once was there mention of a judicial process that was in line with our beliefs as Heathens.  It was an even greater insult that everyone who backed me up was also vilified in this situation.

My goal here is not to bash a particular Kindred, as much as ask the question:  how much conflicting morality are we bringing with us from former religions?  Is this a good or bad thing?  What can we do about it?  Kindreds tend to be our chosen family.  But how much power should we give them, when it comes to them judging our personal life?  What I found particularly telling in this situation, is that no one in my former Kindred even asked me why I did what I did.  If asked, I certainly would have explained my beliefs that this was something that Freya had led me to do, and explained the situation.  I have always found it particularly frustrating, and saddening, that I never had the chance to say that, so that they could think about the ramifications of being led by the gods.

The other local Kindreds did not necessarily agree with my former Kindred’s decision.  In fact, another Kindred disagreed very much, and tried to bring me into their fold.  They welcomed me, at a time when I felt very unwanted by the Heathen community, and I owe them so much for helping me through a very rough time.  No doubt I would have become a member, had I not moved across the country a few months later.  They even invited me to their Yule, and helped me get there, since it was far away.  Below, a picture from Yule 2006, where I was welcomed with open arms, by Osprey Bay Kindred.  Me, in front of the Yule Wreath, in a dress the Chieftain’s wife made for me:

I tell you this story, not to try to justify myself, so much as raise some questions, and hopefully get some community feedback.  But I do believe it is an interesting conundrum, here:  follow the gods when they lead, or be comfortable where you are, and try to ignore their summons?  Deal with censure in your Kindred, or deny what you are led to do?  I believe I did the right thing.  I did so then, and I still do now.  But I certainly welcome your opinions on the entire situation.  Let me know some of your thoughts.

Velsignelser,

Muninn

*Although part of me would really like to, I don’t feel comfortable discussing the name of the specific Kindred at this time.  Suffice to say, they are a Southeastern U.S. Kindred.  If you live in the area and would like to know their name for a valid reason, by all means message me, and I will talk further with you.  Otherwise, I’ll be maintaining the peace, and anonymity.

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  • So many thoughts in my head! Fascinating story!

    First of all, I find Freya fascinating and love hearing about your experiences being led by her. Sexual morality today is quite different from what it once was. We are modern Pagans following ancient Gods and that is huge thing to really wrap your mind around.

    We bring a lot of baggage with us from our former faiths and mainstream culture. It takes time and awareness to strip that away and rebuild our worldview anew.

    I also appreciate your recounting of the dissolution of a Pagan group. It’s very sad when these things happen, and often I think it happens because people aren’t communicating honestly. It’s so easy to get caught up in the throes of outrage that we forget to stop and truly consider what is happening and what lessons can be learned from the situation.

  • Sara A.

    Well, hey, at least they didn’t kick you out behind your back…which is what happened to me in one group I was in. They didn’t even inform me until we were all at a gathering, one I had gone early to in order to set up a group camp. For them.

    On the other hand, that sounds like a piece of cake compared to having a MEETING about what a ‘ho you supposedly were. As someone with a strong relationship with Ishtar….Yeah. I understand. Their notions can be peculiar.

  • Jean Markale, in his really boringly translated book “Women of the Celts”. writes about how the Ancient Ones view of sex, lust, and love itself was that they are sort of ‘threats to good order’.

    What he doesn’t go into as I recall (I last read that book about 15 years ago) is that ‘good order’ often needs to be destroyed. Shaking things up can reveal underlying weaknesses, as you showed were there in the first Kindred.

  • Wow, Sara. That’s awful, and I’m sorry it happened to you. I don’t understand why people do things like this. I have also noticed that these situations tend to arise more around female members. I know one amazing, strong Heathen women that most Heathens I know can’t stand, and I think it’s just because she has strong opinions and will vocalize whenever she pleases.

    When one of the male members of the same Kindred I used to belong to acted up, he was sat down for several talks, then put through a kind of judicial thing with the leaders, then threatened with being named a nidling, if he did not either act right, or leave of his own accord. He did end up leaving, but he was not named a nidling.

    I believe that the Kindred might have tried to kick me out like what you described, if several members hadn’t raised such a fuss. I am grateful that I got a chance to stay, but at the same time… I’m also glad I left, with my dignity intact, instead of sticking around, waiting to be shamed some more.

  • Laura Patsouris

    I do believe that there is a lot of holdover influence in modern mainstream Heathenry from Fundamentalist Christianity…I’m sure this is especially true in the Bible Belt. It’s funny how some of that conservatism especially related to sex, sexuality and gender roles gets grafted on to Heathenry. Any group will be influenced by the larger society…maybe that is why Heathenry in the Southern US (and also some other parts of the country) can be reactionary, while Heathenry/Asatru in, say, Iceland, has a socially liberal flavor.

    Thanks for sharing this, it can’t have been easy to go through or to publicly recount…

  • Greenman

    One of the first things i learned as a Pagan was that there is a time to keep silence. i, too, have been kicked out of a religion i was very involved in and committed to…because i couldn’t keep silence about being gay. Now i’m not saying this is your fault nor that you brought it on yourself BUT how the hell did anyone find out about you and C.? i guess i’ve become distrustful of religious groups.
    Greenman

  • 704882311

    I’ve never joined a kindred because I’ve never found a group that was trustworthy.

  • Well, as to how they found out, when C. asked some of them to keep an eye on me because he was worried about me, they questioned him thoroughly about how he knew that in the first place…
    C. told them we’d gone camping, and then when pressed told them what had happened, because he didn’t anticipate the gross overreaction that happened. He didn’t see any reason to lie, either…
    Honesty being one of those Heathen virtues we like to maintain.
    The rest of the members blew it totally out of proportion from there.
    In fact, I could have understood the reaction just a bit more, if we had lied about it, or if it had been going on for a long time, and was a threat to the Kindred itself.
    I still don’t know what all they were thinking.
    @Laura: yes, I believe the fact that this Kindred is in the thick of the bible belt sure didn’t help the situation.
    @Low Key: hmm, is that because you like Loki, and most Kindreds are sorta rabid about being afraid of or hating him?
    Can’t say I blame you, in that case… but it is a shame. We should be able to trust our fellow Heathens.