Community, and the lack thereof.

Fitting in has been a lifelong problem for me, and it still is. I spent elementary school with my nose in a book, ignoring everyone else around me save for a single friend who left when I was 10. Anytime after when I was occasionally invited into a group, or forced to be with them, I was tagging behind and not fully understanding what was going on.

I got used to it though. Maybe I was just naturally an introvert, or maybe it was because of my hearing loss, or a combination of factors. My Mother and other female relatives tended to be the same way, keeping to within the family unit for socialization and at-work acquaintances, so this could even be a learned behavior. Either way, except for a few fun years in high school, this was my reality and I learned to accept it as is without much of a problem.

Then along came heathenry.

Delving into that forced me to confront issues of community and family, where the ideal is that an individual is not really an individual, but is actually a part of the whole. A Real Heathen (TM) should be a contributing member of the community, with an emphasis on real-life communities among recons.

Something I’m not good at. If any reenactment of past cultures were to occur, I’d probably be the crazy lady living in the shack at the edge of town or in the woods. I can engage in social activities and put on a public face just fine, but it’s a temporary fix. On a more permanent basis I find myself more comfortable in liminal and isolated spaces, away from people and a town’s activities. Which, when looking at ideals, seems antithetical to heathen values.

Plus, to top it all off, I just moved a few weeks ago to a new city 3 hours away from my birthplace (if it could actually be called a “city”). Whereas before I was alone in thought but still had people I knew hanging around, now I’m actually, truly alone where the only people I know are a few university professors. The land is still unfamiliar to me, and I can already feel differences in wiht interactions between here and back home. I may as well have moved to a different country, the distinct feeling of being an outsider is that strong.

And yet, I’m comfortable being an outsider. Not enjoying it, but it’s a familiar place to be and I know what I can and can’t do as such.

So how heathen can I truly be without any sort of community to which I belong? It’s something I’ve been wondering about lately. I’m sure the standards are more relaxed now, since heathens are a small group and widely scattered, but still, even with online forums I simply don’t DO groups of people. I tend to interact with a few on an individual basis instead.

Is it enough to simply not be a negative contributor or influence to surrounding people? How involved must one be in community(s) for them to truly be a part of it(them) and therefore be “heathen enough”?

Something to think about. I’m just going to put it as “time will tell” for now and continue doing what has worked so far.

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9 Comments

Filed under Reflections

9 responses to “Community, and the lack thereof.

  1. Awa

    I find that issues of community tend to be more male related than feminine. Women *were* the liminal beings who lived at the borders of society just by virtue of gender. Can’t remember where I read this but there was often an eastern door for the hausfrau’s use because it faced the direction of Other. Men domintaed the public sphere, not women. The responsibilities and expectations of community differ. In fact, many of the goddesses were non-civilized; living in the woods, beneath lakes, away from man but coming forward occassionally to punish/reward. (I have a few posts on this buried in my blog.)

    So you’re in good company is what I’m saying. 🙂

    • For once, having a vagina does help!
      In seriousness, thanks. I guess that’s why the “traditional female roles” outside of the outdated “brood mare” concepts are just fine by me and I’m happy to focus on a hearth cult rather than going out into the world.

      Although, thinking back, there is one sort of community that I do feel “at home” in, and that’s amongst fellow ecologists, old and young. It helps that scientific fields in general are well established and have shared languages within the various disciplines, so I know how to navigate THOSE particular groups. But even then scientists tend to be on the fringe of society, so overall it’s still the same situation.

  2. While not heathen (although some of my practice does involve Germanic gods), I am right there with you on being an outsider, a liminal figure, and not fitting in with groups, never have, never will. But, I posit that the “crazy lady living in the shack at the edge of town or in the woods” IS an integral part of the community. She defines it by being outside of it. And when others need something a bit outside the bounds of the usual, she can provide that. This isn’t always acknowledged by the mainstream community, unfortunately, but it’s almost always true.

    Anyway, modern heathens might like to re-define their religion as being more about community than even about the gods, but that doesn’t make it so. If you are honoring the wights and the gods properly, you are a “good heathen” regardless of your role (or lack of one) within a greater community.

    • ” But, I posit that the “crazy lady living in the shack at the edge of town or in the woods” IS an integral part of the community. She defines it by being outside of it.”

      I agree, and that’s a line of thinking I’ve used lately to justify where I’m at right now.
      I think in the past such a thing wasn’t questioned because no one could be NOT heathen back then. Nowadays when trying to rebuild such cultures, we have only some ideals and anti-ideals to work with and not the full, complex range of community roles, so we keep running into the “was this REALLY how it went back then or…?” problem in our analyses.

  3. Alchemille

    Not a heathen either, the shamanic tag labeled me a pagan, so be it.
    We all have different paths, different things we wish to learn and achieve. I’ve always been an introvert and I feel that being part of a group would restrain me, prevent me from going further. Working alone allows me to learn various things that may or may not serve me later in my spiritual and/or creative life (learning is never a waste of time) without having somebody question my path, my beliefs, my interests or whether I am a real pagan or not.
    As we say in French: it’s better to be alone than to be in bad company.

    • Good phrase to use.
      I’m at a point where I would like to be a part of a group and am willing to contribute as such, but not so much that I would sacrifice key aspects of my practices to fit in.

  4. Atreyu Crimmins

    As long as you honour and engage the gods, wights and ancestors it shouldn’t matter whether you blót with a community or share an intimate symbel with one or two others. Recon heathenry is admirable yet problematic in that it inspires and compels us to obtain an experiential and grassroots insight into the path of our ancestors, but the world has changed exponentially since the early Middle Ages and heathen avowals such as the hālig of the tribe are simply no longer relevant to us. Remember that Woden too is a loner and a wanderer. Take heart and hold the heathen hammer high.

    • Oh I don’t have a hammer, I have a spindle instead (and my hearth culture is only part-Germanic).
      In seriousness though, I do agree. I think part of the problem is that in the past it wasn’t given a second thought on whether someone was a heathen or not, because there was no other option then. Nowadays though heathens are few and scattered about, so we analyze every role and idea much more than our ancestors probably did, and in that we tend to loose the detail and flexibility of a true community. All we have to work on are pieces of ideals or anti-ideals, rather than the full range of roles people played.

  5. As a Deaf Pagan who grew up in a hearing world myself before entering the Deaf Community, I would be inclined to say that your “outsider” feelings are at least prompted to a certain degree by your hearing loss. A lot of the behaviorisms you describe are very comparable to my own thoughts and actions, and those of other deaf people who grew up in a hearing environment. By the very nature of our communication issues, we tend to prefer those one-on-one close relationships with a few select individuals, rather than trying to muddle our way thru a community that isn’t always warmly accepting…or at least not very accommodating.

    Even today, while I am fluent in American Sign Language and do interact with both Deaf and Pagan individuals from time to time, I still maintain that sense of being a solitaire and that loner mentality, and it does influence the practice of my spirituality In many ways I don’t feel I have a community either. I’m not “Deaf enough” or I’m not “hearing enough” or I’m not “Pagan enough” or whatever.

    While it can be frustrating to feel like you don’t have a community to call your own, at the same time it can be wonderfully freeing. It allows me to define my spirituality on my own terms, and to see it as a unique tradition of its own, merging all the aspects of myself…including the fact that I am deaf. This cannot and should not be ignored.

    Carving out your own niche in that spiritual spectrum can be challenging, but it can also be enlightening…and quite introspective. I would encourage you not to allow others’ interpretations of heathenism to influence your own.

    In my professional life, I am always counseling parents of deaf children not to try and mold their child to established expectations – “you don’t fit your child to the educational system, you fit the educational system to your child.” In another words, stop trying to make your child be what the school’s perceived concept of a deaf child in their educational system is supposed to be. Every child is unique, and every child’s educational needs will be different.

    By the same token, don’t feel you have to fit yourself to the “heathen way.” Rather, fit that heathen way to your own life and needs.

    It works out a lot better that way.

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