Tag Archives: heathenry

Light the Beacons – May 1st

Hello everyone, after another stretch of not posting anything I’m starting to ease back into blogging, starting with a brief notice about this heathen event occurring worldwide.

Heathens United Against Racism has organized an event on facebook called “Light the Beacons” set to occur on May 1st, 2016 (May Day).

On this coming May Day we call on all Heathens around the world who stand for inclusive, tolerant, and diverse practice to light a beacon in solidarity with all other Heathens who stand for these values in our spirituality. Whether you are lighting a candle in your home with your loved ones or are hosting a bonfire party open to the public we ask you help us shine a light on all the good work, good practice, and good people in Heathenry across Midgard.

Using the hashtags #LightTheBeacons and #Havamal127 on social media you can link your photo and/or stories of activism to connect with the group and event.

If you choose to participate please take a picture of your beacon, whether it is a candle or a roaring bonfire, send it to HUAR with the number of people who participated and where, in terms of the nearest major city or region, it took place. If you want to organize a public bonfire event please send us the information and we will help promote it. Together we will ignite a fire in our hearts and homes that will push back the shadows of fear & ignorance, shine light on our honor, and rally the hopes of Heathens everywhere.

 

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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 be  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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Being Heathen

It’s a term that can be seen throughout my posts, both in reference to myself and to the contemporary religious category. If you try to google it, you end up with a variety of definitions, ranging from the archaic to the racist, and many with conflicting viewpoints.

So what do I mean when I say I’m Heathen?

  • Worldview, traditions, and ideas are rooted in historical, archeological, folkloric, and linguistic evidence for pre-Christian cultures. Experimentation and UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) are individual, private, and secondary in “truthfulness”. Even then, the UPG should still be rooted in something factual rather than be completely made up or ripped from an unrelated topic or group.
  • Ancestor veneration is central to my personal practice, particularly of the female ones (known as the itis).
  • The home or hearth is the center of my universe so to speak, both in a literal and symbolic sense (the physical home and the friends/family symbolically allowed within it). Relative to the home are concentric circles extending outward from it; the further away one is from my “home” the less of a personal connection they have to me.
  • Deity veneration, with few exceptions, is a communal practice*, and patron deities are extremely rare. If one has a personal relationship with a deity, they are considered to be pledged to the deity, not patronized by them.
  • Local spirits can also venerated as gods and/or respected as neighbors and stewards (local meaning both those considered local to my ancestors as well as physically local to where I live).
  • Wihts (“beings”) have various levels of interactions and importance, with the general trend being the high gods at the top-level of importance (they are relevant to many people/rule over a large region/rule over a major function) and everything else is below (more localized to my area/my personal life). The high gods also have the least amount of interaction with me, while the lower tiers have more (i.e. the ancestors).
  • Celebrations are rooted in the seasons, holy days, and local community activities, rather than astronomical cycles.
  • World-accepting rather than world-rejecting. To put it bluntly, “what you see is what you get”, there is no guarantee of a pretty afterlife or chance of reincarnation to make up for this life, therefore I live as if they don’t exist at all.
  • Magic is the realm of certain few individuals and is meant to be practical in nature, rooted in the ancient drive to survive. It can be used to help or harm (often it can be both).
  • Actions make the person, and every action has consequences.
  • Luck is a serious matter, as it can be handed down unintentionally through generations and be modified by one’s own actions for better or for worse.

Keep in mind that this is a general framework based on Reconstructionist heathen ideas, and the generalities are only similarities I appear to share with other heathens. Where I deviate is my source material, as my personal heathen practice is rooted in the cultural traditions and beliefs from (primarily) Eastern Austria, Hungary, and (secondarily) Southern Poland (and their respective sources). Hence the reference to the Danube in the blog title/address and my uncommon mythological references (the Magyar gods instead of Scandinavian ones for example). The names for my “religion” can also be called ősi hit or firner situ (both translate into “old beliefs”/”old customs”).

*This is an ideal based on how it was done in the past; many heathens like myself are forced to go it alone and therefore unable to practice communal worship, even though we would like to.

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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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The spinning of threads.

It’s no secret that spinning plant and animal material into yarns and threads is an ancient craft. It has been, and still is, necessary for our survival by protecting our bodies from our surroundings. It is also no secret that women rather than men tended to be the threadcrafters in European cultures. And it is definitely not a secret that modern heathen women are associated as well (sometimes to an unfortunate extreme, however).

But let’s look at the bright side first. I personally love spinning and crocheting the resulting yarn into something beautiful, primarily because I am an artist in general, but also because it brings me closer to my great-grandmothers. I would watch them swiftly create dainty lace and sturdy blankets with their old, weathered hands and wish I could be as good as them when I was young. They were left-handed, and I was right, so I couldn’t be taught directly. Thanks to technology though, I was able to access some youtube videos on crocheting over a year ago that allowed myself to go beyond the basics. There is a certain sort of magic involved in such things. Not “woo-woo” magic like in movies, but feelings instead. By working my hands, I recreate my great-grandmothers’ hands and feel them with me, as if the parts of them inside me come alive in this shared activity.

I took this a step further about half a year ago and learned how to spin my own yarns out of animal and plant fiber. I have since disregarded acrylic and pretty much anything from Wal-mart, even though they’re cheaper and longer. Spinning wool and silk, particularly ones you don’t have to process yourself, is a wonderful feeling when you just let it slip through and come out with a nearly perfect strand. Not to mention that the resulting yarn worked into a crocheted piece makes the art as mine as possible. But, it’s not truly mine. My great-grandmothers may have not spun their own yarn, but our more ancient ancestors did. They come alive in me as well when I recreate their craft. Every piece I make is a shared one, the result of generations of women before me passing on their teachings.

As one who practices ancestor worship, this feeling of a shared experience is invaluable. I am symbolically connecting my threads with theirs and continuing our craft into the future. This is not the only art or craft that I do (I also draw and make pottery), and nor is it the only one that has a long history behind it. But for me, it is the only one that was inspired by my family and the only one that connects me back to them. My other works have their own meaning for me, more personal and individual ones.

That is why I do the stereotypical heathen woman yarn/thread thing. Not because I feel like I have to as a woman, but because it carries value and history for me.

That is where I think things get tricky in the more cultural pagan groups, particularly Germanic heathenry. As one put it, some heathen women seem to fall into a yarn trap of sorts, believing that’s their duty as a woman (along with staying in the kitchen and making babies, all that boring boy’s club crap), and that’s all they really can do or talk about. Personally, I’d prefer to debate Roheim’s Freudian interpretations of Hungarian folk practices when doing my yarn thing over gabbing about children. There were plenty of bad-ass pre-Christian women that probably carried a conversation quite well, and I’d like contemporary heathens/pagans to bring that back. Send those threads back to a tougher time and realize how necessary “women’s work” really was. Not only was it mandatory for survival, it was sacred too, not something to be shooed off to the side while the boys take center stage.

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