I’m going to talk today a bit about the issue that’s been brought up about Heathenism and its rituals. This is a very important topic, and one which relates to many issues I’ve had with Heathenism as of late. The big question, is, where to start.
Yesterday, I went to go see Woman In Gold.
Now, you may be asking, “What does that have to do with Heathenry and the issues of its rituals?”
Well, it has to do with history.
The plot of the movie is about a woman who tries to get back a number of paintings owned by her Jewish family in the years and decades before the Nazi’s took over Austria, one of which includes a portrait of her aunt by Austria’s greatest painter. It interplays the heritage of two peoples, each believing that they own something, even though that heritage, while theirs, was obtained wrongly.
The story of our Rituals follows a similar story.
Mohnkem at The Modern Heathen talks about how how the native climate didn’t promote these big, festive rituals that the Greeks, Romans, or Celts had. He talks about how the history of our peoples pushed them to become as efficient as possible, even in religious life. I think they have some decent points, but even recreating that attitude doesn’t explain modern Heathenry’s issue. I’ve been to a few, seen a few on line and I have to agree…they’re not that beautiful. The one I recall most clearly was apparently more uplifting spiritually than it seems the majority of them are. But it was a far cry from the beautiful rituals one sees in most other Pagan religions modern or historical. And those doing it were also Masons, who recommended joining the Masons to learn how to do rituals better.
So one could even argue that the beauty and power hadn’t even come from Heathenism in that ritual.
ganglerisgrove points out that how the ancient practiced their paganism is a far cry from how we practice it today.
I think what we have is Heathenry viewed through a very skewed lens of modernity, with all the anti-devotional, anti-piety veneer inherent in an approach born of the post scientific age. I think that we are seeing in Heathenry a failure to examine our own contemporary conditioning. (More on this in a moment). We have accounts attesting to Heathen piety, and their reverence for Mystery. As but one example, Tacitus compares Germanic piety to that of his own people and finds Rome lacking. We have accounts of Mystery, Deity possession, god-spouses, magic, shamanism, and a profound reverence for the dead. If one wants to look only at lore, we have plenty of it, we just choose to interpret the mystery out, a choice we often make without consciously realizing it. This says more about us and the paucity of our own devotional consciousness than it does Heathen religion.
Several years ago, I joined a facebook Asatru page, looking to communicate with my fellow Heathens, learn from them, and maybe teach a thing or two. During one discussion, I came out as Hela Gothi, a Priest of Hel, and was quickly and summarily denounced as having made it up and that I could not be a Priest of Hel.
Because the Lore had no records of such a person existing.
Now, the Lore had plenty of examples of priests. It had plenty of examples of people pledging themselves to one God or another. It even had examples of Priests serving particular Gods. But because there were no records of Hel having a Priest back then...there could be no Hel having a priest now.
And this is a major problem in Heathenism. Beyond the banning of UPG, which I think has seriously crippled us (how can the Gods’ speak to us if we silence all those voices they’re using), seems to be the banning of innovation even within the framework of the rules we already have agreed too. Not that anyone can agree, because with the contradictions in the Lore, even Lore hounds will attack and silence each other.
I know a lot of people who come to Heathenism because it provides something far more real than Wicca…and I know a lot of people who leave Heathenism just as quickly because that reality has become so dogmatically intolerant of ideas that nothing can survive.
This is not to say that dogma is bad. Using the old dogma is helping Pagans and Heathens push out foreign ideologies that have taken very strong hold on Paganism and turned it away from what our ancestors believed. But there is a very large difference between preventing your Religion from being corrupted by foreign Ideologies and preventing the genesis of new ideas, or the genesis of old ones. Doing the former preserves who and what your religion is…doing the latter kills your religion far faster than anything the former could do.
In clinging so tightly to the Past, Heathens have created a problem where we will deny the Past if it means something unusual or uncomfortable. Much like the Austrians in Woman in Gold, they were so intent on preserving the history of their country’s art, they were willing to deny something about their country which they felt made them look bad. In the case of the movie, it was that the Austrian Museum had pretty much stolen the painting from the woman’s family thanks to help from the Nazis.
With Heathens, in a way, its a similar story. Part of our reasons is that the Nazi’s stole our history, our imagery, our divine and mystical from us. They so tainted anything to do with Germanic religion that we are terrified that something new, something mystical, that arises will be in anyway similar to what the Nazi’s “believed.” We’re so afraid of being compared to something bad in history, that we will outright deny all the good things which the Nazi’s took.
Take the swastika. Back in the day, it was probably worn with far, far more regularity than Thor’s Mjolnir, because it symbolized luck, the sun, and good fortune. That’s the reason the Nazi’s used it. But despite the fact that it for all logic could have been the symbol of Sunna or Freya, the same as the Valknut for Odin or Mjolnir for Thor, we not only hide it away, we get really, really upset when anything looks like it.
On top of that, as Gangleris points out, anything that isn’t modern and sensible is also rejected quickly. The Heathens were a Shamanic people, yet we have almost no shamans. We have Gothi, but they are chosen not for their spirituality…they’re chosen for their scholarly pursuits. The AFA has a Gothi program I have been interested in, wanting to be accredited, but I haven’t. The Program focuses on the Lore, and the history, and the mythology…but it has no magical courses. It doesn’t teach to you commune with the gods in ancient or modern magical ways. It doesn’t teach you how to deal with errant Alfs, or greedy dwarves, or what to do if a Jotun shows up and Thor is no where around. Now that might sound like a rather fanciful complaint…
But most Churches will at least try to drop a demonology class 101 on their preachers. They make sure they know how to pray, how to talk to their God, and treat their God as a fully existent part of the Religion.
At best…We call on the Gods, but I have yet to hear of anyone invoking a God and having that God address the faithful like you hear in other Pagan rituals. And if we’re worried about UPG, we have video and audio recording equipment, we can record these visits and then compile all that info to see what agrees, what disagrees, and then ask the Gods what discrepancies mean.
We have taken the divine and spiritual from our religion, and that certainly hurts us. But it’s not the only reason our rituals lack power, it’s not the only element we’re missing.
Heathenism is about Family, at its heart. But there’s a part of this we don’t exactly talk about because it was used in a lot of propaganda for some bad stuff.
Blood and Soil.
A People is defined as a group which has a shared culture, language, lineage, and location. Take the British and transplant them to a new land and in a few hundred years you have Americans. Do the same for Germans, Irish, Italians, Africans, Chinese, Japanese, etc, and you get a new group…usually based primarily on Location. To an extent, there really isn’t any major difference between English, American, Australian, and New Zealand cultures…but they are different, and those differences arose because of the Lands they lived in. They’re still Anglo-Saxon peoples, but they are not the same people, they have the same Blood, but the Soil has each shaped them into different “Peoples” If you will.
We aren’t very comfortable with the idea of Soil in a mystical sense. We are very uncomfortable with the idea of Blood in any sense.
You want to know one of the major reasons Heathen rituals lack the same vitality, beauty, and power that say, Wiccan rituals do? It’s not because our “faith is weaker.” It’s because we’re missing the vital elements for us. Wiccans call on Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and they will have those things in their ritual areas, either naturally or by representation on a smaller scale. But most Heathens do not have land, or should I say Land. It would not be difficult to really say that we’re in a Heathen Diaspora. We’re scattered far and wide, both in physical nature and in theological acceptance. We have common Gods, but little else besides some scribbled and poorly collected Lore.
This is why the discussion for Temples and Shrines is really, really important. It gives us the crucial element of Soil, of Land, a place to call our own beyond theology. Something permanent that we can soak with meaning, importance, and the other element.
Not just the blood of a “unified” people, or an ancestral connection. I mean blood as in sacrifice. Did you know that the Blot, the most basic, fundamental ritual of Heathenism is supposed to be done with Blood? Blot literally translates as Blood. An animal is brought forth as the faithful chant, pray, and raise a mighty noise. Then at the height, the animal is slaughtered and the priest sprinkles the blood upon the faithful to bless them.
While this isn’t a Blot per se, Vikings did a wonderful job of showing what exactly a Heathen Ritual looked like. If anything, it toned it down.
Complete down to the “I have the weirdest boner” feeling you see in many of the Christians watching. Heathen religion was about Gods, and Blood, and Land, and Sex. The Norse, the Germanic, lived by that. You Fucked. You Fought. And you lived by the Soil you lived, farmed, and died on. And you did it all praising the Gods with every breath because you were god damned alive!
And we’ve denied even that.
We don’t have a Land, most of us don’t own Land, we have little to no connection to a land, much less an “ancestral” land. You know the times I feel best, spiritually? Is when I go down to my dad’s farm. He’s only had it a bit over a decade, bit is my “family’s land.” It heals me to be there, even more than the Cities I have claimed as Hel’s.
We live in cities, in apartments, far from each other, and every time we hear the sacred term of Blood and Soil, however historically accurate to our ancestors, we hiss about racists and hide away like vampires from the sun, spitting impotent curses.
We don’t have the blood. We use mead as a substitute, but saying a blessing over a horn and sprinkling that upon the faithful is a far cry from the chanting, drumming, howling crowd gathered around a bull, or a boar, or a goat, slitting its throat as you raise a Holy Cry to the Gods and then bathing in its sacred blood as its spirit is given to the Gods as a sign of your devotion and loyalty.
We quibble and cry about animal abuse and cruelty, about how it’s not civilized, not modern, not clean. How it is brutal and dirty and violent. We don’t like how such a ritual would effect those who are part of it. You think there’s a beauty in the classic theater of a Wiccan ritual, calling of corners and summoning of elements? You’re right, but it is a “clean, safe, modern” ritual. It’s a safe ritual, where we can feel as uplifted as Christians singing hymns. It is the Apollonian.
But Heathenism is the Bacchanal. The Dionysian frenzy of blood and sex, violence and desire. Which is why our rituals lack beauty, grace, and power. Because we are so busy denying who we are…for the sake of who we are. We modern folks are so Apollonian with logic, reason, and research, that we fight every Dionysian desire and urge of our religion and ancestors faith, passion, and practice.
Really, I would imagine that a properly done Blot would look less like the blots we have now, and would look like the video from Vikings, cranked up to eleven an ending in an orgy that would put most Romans to shame. After all, the Norse were the people who fucked at the table during dinner, without shame.
But we can’t have that, now can we. We’d be too primitive, to degenerate, too…unmodern. And we can’t have that. Heathery has to be the religion of Homework, the religion of the Academic Pagan. But, when you get right down to it…Heathenry wasn’t about homework. It wasn’t about academia, even if Odin is our Chief God.
It was about life and frenzy, it was about Blood and Soil. If we want to have the beauty and power of Heathen rituals, we need to remember who we are, even if it is uncomfortable or people hate us for it. Because only by being true to ourselves, can we be true to the Gods.
We don’t have to be of one blood. We don’t have to be of one soil. But until return the importance of Land and more importantly the importance of Blood and the supreme importance of our Gods, our Diaspora shall mark our people and Gods as fading, not resurgent.
We have to retake our heritage from those that would claim it for themselves, from those who would deny it to us because they feel they own it or they deserve it better. Heathenism and its symbols and practices do not belong to the Nazis, and we should take back what they stole. Heathenism does not belong to academia, and we should restore that which they have stripped away.