Tag Archives: community

What’s in a name?

This is one of those rare times I feel the urge to comment on contemporary matters in the western pagan/polytheist/etc. communities. Now hopefully I’ve been making it clear on this blog that I speak only for myself and not anyone else who calls themselves the labels that I also use (whether it’s “heathen” or “pagan” or the various cultural terms), but if I haven’t, hopefully I’ve made that clear now. I should also take this moment to say that I defined the term heathen for myself as well, and I do not expect anyone else to comply with it (though if people wish to copy that definition for themselves then by all means do so).

Religious labels are such a double-edged sword. On one hand, the labels are how like-minded people try to find each other, particularly in this internet age where nearly every publication online has keywords and specific search terms. On the other, people using the same labels don’t always agree with each other (just look at how many sects of Christians there are) and there’s really no way to regulate who gets to use and define them. The term “heathen” is no exception. Try searching for “heathen” topics you’ll get all sorts, from Neo-nazi ideals to recon/revivalist to wiccan-ish flavorings and all the possibilities in between.

This leads to a recurring issue with religious labels that I fear I’ll never be able to escape (though I’ve tried in the past), and that’s having others speak for me without my permission. Often those others that are speaking for me are those I have strong disagreements with, on a religious and personal level, but unfortunately those people have status and fame whereas I’m small and anonymous. They have a larger voice than I do and it gets frustrating to feel powerless over my own identity. I can put stuff up on a blog like I’m doing now, but let’s be honest, this isn’t exactly a high-traffic area. Which, for the most part, suits me just fine, but when it comes to social commentary it makes my voice a difficult thing to project.

The cause of today’s concerns is Galina Krasskova publishing a new book, and being reminded of certain things from the inevitable fall-out between her fans and her haters in the comments (honestly, it could be a drinking game by now). I’ve seen ridiculous commentary on both sides, but quite honestly her and her fans frustrate me a lot more than the haters do. Reason being is that they are quite prominent in the overall Pagan world, at least in America, and their writings are more mainstream, so she reaches a wider swath of people than the haters do, who appear to mainly keep to themselves. So when she claims to speak for Heathens and state her ideas of what Heathens should do as fact, there’s a lot more I have to negate when explaining myself compared to what’s associated with the haters.

One of the biggest concepts she pushes for is having strong devotion to the Gods above all else (and strong for her is extreme for me). I know a lot of people who do that and that’s just fine. But the problem starts when she wants all other heathens to do this, or when she starts criticizing other heathens (and even unrelated pagans) and paints anything less than the highest devotion as a sad state of affairs. As an aspect of Christian baggage in pagan thinking.

Funnily enough, I find her stance to be more Christian. I’m not here just to act like a Christian to a different god than Yahweh. I’m here to explore my heritage as fully as possible and bring back what I can into a living set of beliefs again. The gods are indeed a part of it, but they’re not the whole thing. I also get the feeling that there is a conflation of importance and receiving constant personal attention in her writings, which for me are two separate things. I am polytheistic, and I do think the gods are important, but that doesn’t mean they need my undivided attention, or that all the recognized gods are automatically in contact with humans. Like I said before, I am not going to make blanket assumptions about the gods, nor am I going to expect others to interact with them the same way. So when someone else DOES make assumptions and does expect me to show the same level of devotion to beĀ  considered a true heathen, I find it presumptuous.

Now, to be fair, she is involved with specifically Norse gods, so perhaps her words were never meant to apply to me or to those others at all since I work with different cultures despite also calling myself heathen. Maybe I read her words as being unintentionally for a broader audience than intended. But even if it doesn’t actually apply to me, it still presumes that everyone under the Norse heathen umbrella should be following her ideas of devotion, and I still cannot support that.

It also leads to the problem of the term “heathen” itself. Many perspectives are guilty of claiming a single definition and using a “no true Scotsman” approach for those who don’t adhere to their standards. This same problem occurs with a great many religious labels, probably all of them. Heathen has several prominent, and contradictory, definitions and stereotypes both within the group and from the perspective of outsiders. Heathens are racists, heathens are loony, heathens are LARPers making it a religion, heathens are neo-Nazis, heathens are rigid, heathens live in the past, heathens are norse-flavord wiccans, etc. etc. etc. I’m confused because this is all very Norse-specific and the predominant assumption of a “heathen” is that one is Germanic-based (which is the origin of the term’s usage in contemporary colloquialism), yet the term “heathen” is obviously used beyond Nordic/Germanic culture now. There’s also an implication of history and culture that Pagan/Neopagan doesn’t always convey (since those usually get associated with contemporary, individualistic and eclectic religions in colloquial use).

So I’m torn. It took me a while to finally find a term that I thought would fit as a general descriptor, but as time goes on more and more people will contribute to the social understanding of “heathen” and change it from its original intention. I don’t know if making a post to explain how I view the term is enough, or if I should move on and find a new term (or make one up). Is “heathen” still useful, or has it become too broad and varied now?

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Contemporary Pagan Communities.

I’m starting to see quite a bit of pagan community politics and complaints be referenced today, and I have to say there seems to be more of it this time of year than there is around Yuletide. As some of you might know, I have discussed the concept of community and what it means for me in the pagan context. I have also mentioned that community is a difficult topic to deal with because pretty much all my life I kept to myself and existed on the outskirts of whatever groups I tried to be a part of. It’s just how it was, and still is.

So naturally I started mulling over the topic again after reading a bunch of other posts (and the usual complaints that go along with it) and I realized something.

I do have a community, or at least something like it. It’s my friends, the ones who have been with me for years, the ones where I don’t have to fit within any particular label or discuss only certain topics with to be with them. It’s a virtual community, rather than a physical one with a traditional village and all that, but it’s there all the same. We may have different beliefs and practices, and we don’t always agree with each other. But I do know that if I were to enter in a circle with them in ritual and in life I would feel right at home.

I think that is what’s missing from today’s pagan community debates. There’s a lot of focus on maintaining a community by having every member conform to a labeled concept (i.e. Kemetic, Heathen, Hellenic, Wiccan) but you can find the same thing with sports fans and hobby groups. A real community, in my opinion, goes beyond the shared beliefs into something deeper. Sometimes a group can be a community after starting out as a shared-faith/interest group, but that’s probably because the relationships were maintained and deepened to the point where lives are shared, not just the particular beliefs and interests. It’s probably not something that intentionally occurred either, but rather developed organically with a mixture of effort, time, and simple good luck.

That’s not something that is easily obtained, especially over the internet, and especially when you’re involving a large, diverse group of people such as pagans. The hand-wringing over pagan community politics is likely not going to cease, but I’ll say this anyway: we don’t need to organize ourselves into a community in order to fight the social and political battles we face. That’s what an organization is for. Striving for community across a spectrum of people, most of whom don’t even know each other or that they even exist, is not a worthwhile effort.

Let the communities form themselves. Humans have done that just fine throughout our existence, and pagans are no exception.

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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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