So writing about Rituals in Heathenism got me thinking. I can’t exactly say they were good thoughts, or happy thoughts, but I suppose that’s to be expected, really. Someone pointed out a problem in Heathenism and when you try to figure out why and how that problem exists, you start getting getting pretty deep sometimes.
The truth is…I don’t think we’re really practicing Heathenism. At least, not publicly, not on the face of it. Oh, we pray to the Aesir and the Vanir, and that is the first step…but we kinda stalled out.
Heathens like to call ours “the religion with homework.” There’s a pretty good reason, because even though our lore and histories are disjointed, we do have a fair bit of academic work with which we can study to learn about Norse culture and a bit about Norse religion.
But Heathens in the old day weren’t “all about the sources” like some messed up remix of “all about the Benjamins.” I doubt there was one meeting at an AllThing where anyone said “show me that in the lore!”
The truth is…academia does not fill the soul. Typically, it does the opposite, and I spent nearly a decade in it. This is not to say research is bad, it isn’t. But there does get to be a point where trying to be a “rational, intellectual, and scholarly” individual gets in the way of faith, where reading papers on which parts of the Edda is more accurate gets in the way of living your faith.
We’ve gotten so focused on practicing our religion right that we aren’t even practicing it anymore. We’re so focused on sources and scholarship, we’ve lost the spirit and passion. I’ve long held that’s not my place to judge another man’s faith, but in the face of overwhelming evidence it gets kind of hard.
A metalhead who just likes viking metal often shows more passion for our Gods than do most of us heathens. One of the things I always liked about Heathenism in the early part was the fact that you could walk into a group and there would be joyous cries of “Brother!” or “Sister!” There was kinship and comradely acceptance, a grabbing of the other person and holding them close spiritually. Because we were few, far between, and surrounded by enemies, or at least people who did not believe in our faith as we did.
We’ve lost that. Now I’ve seen discussion after discussion about how we shouldn’t call each other brother and sister, we shouldn’t look for that kinship, because “That’s not how it was done” and terms like “innergarth” and defining who is “in your group” and who is “not in your group.” Like little high school clicks about who has the right scholarship and who has proven themselves worthy of your respect vs those “heathens” you can mock and laugh at.
That is not how our ancestors behaved. That is not the spirit of Heathenism that drew me to not just the Gods, but the faith and religion as well. Sure, the Norse and Germanic peoples were a tribalistic people often drawn into clan lines, but just because they had different clans or tribes didn’t mean that they didn’t respect each other, or welcome strangers in like family. The opposite in fact.
And they didn’t choose Gothi or religious leaders based on their “scholarship.” Nor did they silence their spiritually gifted with cries of “not in the lore!” Tacitus I believe is recorded as saying that the Germans (peoples) were such a pious people that they shamed the Romans with how faithful they were to the Gods.
Well, I’ve been around the Romans of today, the Cultus Deorum, and guess what. If facebook groups are anything to go by…the Romans now out pious the Germanics. There is more faith there than I have seen in any of the Asatru or Heathen groups. And the Romans have far, far more lore about their religion and ancestral practices than we do.
But they haven’t gotten bogged down in it.
And, maybe part of the problem, or the clue to the problem, is in the names. Asatru = Way of the Aesir. Heathen simply meant “not a Christian.” Odinism is of Odin, focusing strongest on him.
Cultus Deorum? Cultivation of/with the Gods. They grow their relationships with their Gods. Tend it, as you would a field or garden. When was the last time you could say that about us Heathens. When was the last time you really saw anyone in a Heathen group cultivating a relationship with our Gods? Study the lore, sure, read a dozen academic papers on some small practice, absolutely.
But cultivate a relationship with a God? Most of them get laughed out of the Park. Raven Kaldera (I think that’s how you spell his name) and I are the only two people I’ve come across that have seriously cultivated relationships with Hel. Odin has maybe three or four Godwives that I’ve encountered. Thor has maybe one. Loki has dozens that have cultivated relationships with him.
Let me say that again, Loki, arguably the Worse God in the Pantheon has followers who have better cultivated their relationships with the Gods and our Faith than nearly every other Heathen out there that I have come across. And I’ve come across a lot.
And if you actually do find someone at least trying to live the faith rather than research it, they get laughed out of the place too. I have many opinions about Raven, even without having fully met him outside of a few posts, but after much thought I have to admit he has at least tried to bring in the Shamanic back into the practice. How well he succeeds…I have no idea. But his group is mocked, relentlessly. Now, do I agree with all his views and conclusions, no. But that is no reason to mock a man. Nor is the fact that he at least seems to put faith above “study.” If anything, that’s something to admire, a man who will listen to the UPG he gets from talking to the Gods directly rather than the APB (Academically Provable Bullshit).
I was lucky, I didn’t have any experience to Heathen groups for years as I practiced, and I didn’t study a whole terribly lot. I just listened to the Gods, and did what felt right in my soul based on the study I had done. But I didn’t let my years of study as a history major cloud my relationships with Hel, or Thor, or Odin, or any of the rest.
But the sad thing is, when I did finally join, I did not find “brothers and sisters.” I found people more interested in tearing each other down, in scholarly research, and in ignoring pretty much anything supernatural or divine in origin for the sake of looking good to the main stream public. “Look how smart and learned we are! We are not the drunken pagans you thought us to be! Look at how unracist and accepting we are!”
Heathenism is the only Pagan religion that actively “polices” itself of anything “racist.” Given the history of our religion being co-opted by racists, you’d think we would have more care about who and what we call racism, actually look at the symbols and concepts used before we decide that someone is racist, look at lore and tradition, actually use that damn academic nature we’re so fucking proud of…but no. We allow the mainstream definition of what is “racist” to guide our judgments, and so we ban much of what is needed to bring back heathenism simply because the words were used or the concepts twisted. Instead of reclaiming our heritage, we shun it…and then we try to use things not our heritage to rebuild the heritage we shun. We’re so intent on being a “modern, rational” religion that we have completely fucked it up.
I’m going to wrap this up with a little academic tidbit that I think shows this well. The Celts and Germanic peoples worshiped in similar ways. Stonehenge had some testing done on it a few years ago, and they showed that when the torches were lit and the drums were pounding, the stones reflected light and sound in such a way as to mimic a modern day dance club, with its heavy beats and flashing lights. Pagans often took hallucinogenic drugs at their sacrifices and danced to those beating drums and flashing fire-lights.
Pagan rituals were rave parties. Rave parties that praised the Gods, drew blood offerings on the ground, and drew the Gods in to possess our bodies so that we might converse with them. It was passion and madness and ecstasy. And we don’t do any of that as Heathens. Not anymore.
The pious religion of the barbarian cannot live in the academic heart of a modern man.