By K.C. Hulsman
In the many years I've been Heathen I've seen the good and the bad of what our religion has to offer. Just as in any group of people, there will always be some who are sweet to your face and who will badmouth you behind your back. I've seen godhi/gythia or other elders who are more concerned with their personal power and ego trip than they are in giving proper homage to the Gods and Goddesses, the ancestors, and the land vaettir. I have heard the gossip mongering; I've seen the buzzing bees flying into open ears trash-talking this set of practices, or that particular person. In other words, at times our religion seems like all the bad things about high school all over again.
When newcomers come into the religion, all too often they're dismissively told to "read the lore" then come back and ask questions. How many people have we driven away from a religion and path that they may have found to be a good fit?
Sometimes I think we have a big public relations problem. We are unfortunately confused at times with Neo-Nazism. Some of the rare occurrences when our religion tends to make the news are because of lawsuits filed by inmates in prison. Even within the general pagan community we are sometimes perceived as being Patriarchial, rather than truly polytheistic. We are even sometimes perceived as being misogynistic, when those who truly know our path can tell you that women are indeed greatly honored in our tradition. I'm sure the fact that we have what I like to call our weekend Viking warriors out there, doesn't help our reputation. I've gone to a gathering or two where the guys do nothing but talk about weapons. Yes, aspects of the warrior are a part of our religion, but a good host-especially one trying to reach out to newcomers-should be making concerted efforts to find a range of topics for discussion.
As much as I love the Northern Tradition, yes we do have our share of problems. Sometimes there can be quite a bit of cat-fighting between some of the ideological fault-lines of our tradition. As someone who worships Loki, I've had my share of vitriol slung my way. I've also had my share of people contacting me behind the scenes, or pulling me aside at gatherings for a private word to tell me they believe as I do but they then ask me to please not mention it. Why? Because if it were known, they'd be outcasts from their group. I think it is a sad fact of our religion that just as some people may live in a broom closet, others live on the top-shelf of that closet. If you look at the number of people subscribed to a list, versus the number of posters, in most cases over 2/3 of that list merely lurk. Religious discourse takes just that: discussion. If we have people too intimidated to speak up or to share their thoughts, doesn't that make us a weaker religion for it? If the most vocal voices are sometimes the most intimidating voices, how does that help us in the long run?
Sometimes I think we waste valuable energy on politics, backstabbing, cat-fighting, and mud-slinging, energy that we could otherwise be channeling into projects that build us up rather than tear us down. I can recall instances of public speaking engagements for Heathens (some local pagan-friendly church, a bookstore, or even an academic conference) where Heathens of another ideological fault-line will show up for the pure purpose of heckling and disrupting. If we take a look at other religions and examine their thriving grassroots initiatives and charities, we are floundering in an abyss mostly of our own making.
I know we have it in ourselves to be so much more than what we are. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (and later Hurricane Rita), the *Frige Fund was initiated to respond to this great crisis. The Frige Fund (currently inactive) is not to be confused with a charity, but rather had been established as a means to build *frith throughout the great Heathen community. Heathen women in kindred in one state might knit little booties that would later be used in a care package to welcome new Heathen babies into the world. But when Katrina happened, the lady in charge of the fund, Tee, went into action. As one of our elders in the Northern Tradition, she has many contacts throughout the U.S. and throughout the different groups and organizations. Using her vast network she was soon coordinating monetary donations, clothing, linen, toiletries, furniture, safe havens, and more for numerous heathen families as well as providing support for needed items for a Louisiana police department. I can personally attest to dropping off donations at her house, and watching the goods taking over multiple rooms in her house from floor to ceiling, to the point you could barely move in the house. When I dropped by again a couple of weeks later, her house was stuffed with an entirely different array of boxes, and several weeks after that things had returned to normal after she'd mailed everything off.