Heathenry Isn’t For You


I’ve been involved in Heathenry for quite a while and there’s one truth about it that I’ve seen manifest itself many, many times; Heathenry isn’t for you. It isn’t for me either. This isn’t a statement about who should be allowed into our little club. This is a statement about understanding the Heathen world view. Heathenry isn’t for you and it isn’t about you. Heathenry is for us. Heathenry is for the community.

We talk a great deal about how Heathenry is a communal religion. We talk about it, but we sure don’t do a whole lot to prove it. The reality is that American Heathenry of all variations is filled with big egos. You’d think that this is natural, given that we are a people who value pride over humility. The problem is that we have people who have egos bigger than they ought to be that all too often make things about them. They are the important one and you should just accept that. If you can’t, then get out! I’ve seen plenty of groups fall apart because of this more than any other problem.

I’d like to tell you a version of the story about the first group I belonged to. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. Some umpteen million years ago, when the earth was still cooling off and dirt was a new invention, I joined my first kindred. When I joined it, I was still rather wet behind the ears as I had only recently crawled out of the primordial seas to walk on land. The world was a big and scary place and the mud ball I was now walking on wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the primordial waters I had left behind. I was no longer free to swim where I wanted. There were new rules to follow and there were plenty of other critters running around trying to convince you to walk like they did. I didn’t much like most of them as so many of them had this funny little waddle that they did and I just wasn’t interested in learning it. Eventually I would meet Cranky. Cranky was the alpha-critter of a mish-mash group of miscreants that called itself Furzedoosa. This group seemed to fit my personality pretty well and it sure didn’t have that funny waddle that others I met did, so I didn’t have to put on an Aerosmith album and learn to walk that way.

For a while, everything went well. I learned a lot. I met some really great folks that I still keep in touch with today. I even developed the same giant swollen head that Cranky had to go with the legs I had sprouted, making me into one funny looking creature. I call this early larval stage of malformed growth Buffoonery. Most of us will pass through it at one point or another, and if the gods are merciful, it won’t last long. Sadly, some get stuck in this stage, but that’s a different story for a different time. As I said, things had been going really well… for a while. Eventually, Cranky would forget this important lesson and things would deteriorate rather rapidly. You see, he forgot that what we did wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about his ego. It wasn’t about the problems he had with others. He forgot that and we all suffered for it. The details of what he did or didn’t do aren’t really that important. What’s important is the impact a raging ego has on a community. Our lives became miserable as frith disintegrated. All manner of things in our personal lives started going completely haywire, as they are wont to do when frith falls apart. If something should have gone our way, it didn’t. If things should have gone against us, well, we were truly good and hosed. It would be nice to place the blame all on Cranky’s shoulders but that wouldn’t be fair or accurate. We were all bear some responsibility because we made the internal strife about us, as individuals, instead of about what is best for the community we belonged to. We followed our leader’s example instead of learning from his failure.

Heathenry isn’t for you. Heathenry is for the community. Being faithful to our gods and our way of life means that we work for the well being of the communities we live in, not just for what is good for us as individuals. We work for the family, the village, the tribe, and even the nation. In a more modern context, because none of this really means anything today if we’re just going to pretend that things are the way they were 1000 years ago, this means that we place our families first. Then we worry about our neighborhoods, or towns or cities, our counties (or parish, as the case my be), our states (or province for so many others), and even our countries. We can disagree about how to get to what is good but we should always be working for that good. Heathenry isn’t for us. It isn’t about us. It’s about what is around us and how we interact with it. We can either choose to be proud without being egocentric or we can choose to take the rank of admiral in the douche-fleet.


Heathenry Isn’t For You — 21 Comments

  1. I began studying how to honor the Germanic/Norse Gods in the early 1970’s, before Kinders,the internet…I follow my own way..

  2. Very well written. I get sooo tired of the egos and such. I am grateful for the Kindred I’m in because we have little if no tolerance for inflated egos or lables of who’s folkish, universalist and such.

  3. Outstanding!! And so completely true. Leaders are wonderful and necessary beings. They get things started, they hold the vision, they provide direction. But they also can end up making “IT” all about them. Full speed ahead, damn the folks drowning in the water!! Your well-written and delightfully sarcastic observation of this phenomenon gave me an insight into what’s going on in my Pagan community – and the rest of this big, wide, wonderful world. Thank you!

  4. I don’t follow the law, or want to be a folkish rivivalist…I’m an odinist! I believe in the power of self transformation….I see so many American kindreds, groups and the like mostly using the nine Nobel virtues as a basis for what they do…it’s called the havamal !!!!and they use it like the ten commandments….typical of people who were Christians and say they converted…poppycock!!! Odin is himself a phycopomp and considered an oddball to the people in old times, hence Thor being the most venerated at the temple in Uppsala.

  5. Hmmm… this leaves us with many other Heathen groups out there such as … Lokeans… Wonder what they think about the raging ego – where would it fit within their World-view 🙂

    • I’ve always seen this as a balancing act between the community and the individual. While it’s fairly clear from source material that the primary social unit was the family, unlike the individual of today’s world, it needs to be understood that the individual wasn’t subsumed by the communal aspect. In plenty of cases what is good for the individual is good for the family, but when what is good for the individual is bad for the family, or even larger social units, then the concerns of the community are given more weight. We often see this illustrated in the sagas, which are practically manuals for how to behave poorly, time and time again. It is a balancing act, though. The total loss of individual identity is destructive to the community in the long term.

      This is a balancing act that those of us of Swedish heritage know all too well. Whether we are still in Sweden (as you are) or the offspring of migrants (as I am), part of the innate nature of “Swedish-ness” is how important the community is. Just think about how much effort goes into being polite. It’s all too easy for us to be consumed with those concerns and lose ourselves to it. We also face scorn when we express ourselves too differently from the norm. Yet, we are still a fiercely independent lot. I’ve found that focusing on the good of society while refusing to be just another sheep in the flock tends to strike that balance fairly well. It’s a trick, to be sure.

  6. Interesting comment, and interesting discussion, so I hope you don’t mind me adding another comment here, Ale Glad ! You are certainly right about the Sagas – if anyone – this day and age – would behave like Egil in the Egil’s Saga (just the raising and lowering of eyebrows in front of King Aethelstan would be out of place in a board room, or when discussing a rise in pay with your boss – which is – basically put – what Egil did in relation to then King of England…) and then the balance… the Swedish ideal of “lagom” or Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose would be a case in point – collectivism can be good and of social benefit for all, but yet – how does one prevent the norm from being too stifling…? As a European, perhaps, I have a very positive feeling when it comes to the US of A – America has always stood for a sort of rugged individualism in European eyes, a country where the Individual is free of social, religious or most other kinds of repression, and might be just about what he or she wants to be… or at least.. this is the ideal picture, the prevailing norm of how we view American society – in reality I don’t know anything at all, save for one brief visit (1 month) as a 16-year old – and as I have no in-depth experience, I should perhaps hold my tounge… Colin Wilson’s old book “the Outsider” still comes to mind – he equates the same yearning for independence with “british” class society – but I wonder if he’s right – the same “problem” or question posed surely exists everywhere… or in every society… What to focus on, perhaps, would be the situations where the balance is overturned, or rather – why does the collective (if any) think that the balance of things h-a-s become overturned, when individual X does y, or why does the group percieve the individual as “shaming” the whole group, or breaking its rules… ? We also find it in the myths – is the “pivotal” moment in the Lokasenna, when Loke finally reveals to Frigg that he lies behind the death of her two sons, or when he denies Freyja, thus barring himself from eventual redemption ?

    • I think lagom does a great job of setting the tone for what it is we are really looking at. The welfare and well-being of society is one point of consideration. The welfare and well-being of the individual is the second point to consider. We do talk about these things as if they are polar opposites, which I’m not convinced they are, and that constrains our ability to discuss the nuances involved. If we frame the discussion in terms of either / or, then even without arguing about the absurd extremes, we are already saying that the individual is inherently in opposition to the communal. I don’t agree with this assessment.

      As I see it, what is good for the individual is often good for the community as well. Now, sometimes this is a matter of rugged individualism and the sentiment to strike out and start anew in a different place. This is who my family came to America from Värmland in 1926. You and I both know how stifling and oppressive the Church of Sweden was at that time. My grandfather was a minister in some fire and brimstone fundamentalist movement that the Lutheran church looked down upon. The social crackdown by the Church of Sweden ultimately forced my farfar and farmor to emigrate to the States where the social problems of religion didn’t exist. (Much to my farmor’s chagrin, I’m told. She didn’t want to leave.) This is a case where what is good for society and what is good for the individual is what we recognize in our Bill of Rights as a fundamental and inalienable right of the individual. It was only the ecclesiastical community of the Lutheran Church that benefitted from those old social conventions.

      Ideally, though, we need to look at what “good for society” really means. This is where all Hel breaks loose, I’m afraid. The exact details are beyond the scope of this article or conversation, but suffice it to say that my American heritage strongly influences my beliefs. First and foremost, we have to start by figuring out what the rights of the individual are and then protect them explicitly and implicitly. By establishing without ambiguity that there are certain things that must be in order for the individual to thrive we ensure that people have the freedoms necessary to make society thrive. If we restrict the individual too greatly then we create a society where nothing changes. Without change we will stagnate and die. At the same time, we must be fully aware that liberty is not without limitations and a person’s desire to engage in a specific behavior does not constitute an unimpeachable right to act that way. If I were to sit down to write my ideal of what these individual rights are, I think I would start with my country’s own Bill of Rights and then look to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These would be the places I would start looking for inspiration.

      This struggle of finding the correct balance is nothing new to us, as you note. We can look at Lokasenna as an example of the conflict between the individual and the communal. Other saga heroes pose us the same potential. All in all, though, I think we might be better off looking to the law codes for clues rather than poetry and stories about people behaving badly designed to excite and entertain. The old law codes are stunningly specific in some areas and utterly without consideration for matters we find abhorrent today, so they aren’t something to be implemented, but they do give us a place to start to see what values and influences society had on the individual and what was expected of the individual regarding the welfare of society. As always, there’s plenty of room for disagreement of interpretation.

  7. Hmmm.. this echoes several discussions I’ve taken part in, over in my home country – and at various internet forums… The Bill of Rights, paired with the UN Declaration of Human Rights would certainly be as good a starting point as any… as would the national laws of most countries in the World – and if all individuals practising Asatru, or all kindreds stating that the practise Asatru would keep inside those borders, I would imagine that all is well…

    Problems, I think, would start to arise when some kindred (even one you have linked to) would refuse to accept Parliamentarism, for example, or the outcome of the latest election to the Swedish Parliament, stating that all who voted for Party X must leave the kindred immediately (here, I’m not stating which party party X is supposed to be, nor did I ever vote for it) on the grounds that they are supposed racists… and still, the rest of Society and the current Government as well accepted the outcome of the referrendum as legal, accepting that party X (whatever we might think of its ideas and ideals) has a right to exist within the Parliament after all… and maybe religion and politics shouldn’t mix… maybe the politicl opinions of each and every individual within kindred X, Y or Z should be left out of the discussion, as long as they are legally acceptable… using brute force or violence to change society, then, wouldn’t, but that’s another story…

    Then again, we have the problem with Communist parties and organisations (of the more radical, non-parliamentary, non-democratic sort) or whether or not Kindred leaders should belong to such organisations, that advocate changing society by brute force, or “revolution” that is, thus openly breaking all laws… Can one be an Asatrumann, or a Gode, then,or Gydja, and hold political opinions as the ones I just mentioned.. ??

    Likewise… if it could be proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the leaders of kindred Y (which I myself helped to found) state themselves to be Godes and Gydjas at one time, yet are members of the Church of Sweden, plus Missionsförbundet as well (an organisation which cannot be said to be “fire and brimstone” in its general outlook or ideology, but certainly openly evangelical and taking a “missionary” stance) and STILL be said to represent kindred Y – I think not – most Asatru groups in the World would tend to disagree – of course, one must allow for individual members (who only very recently might have joined) to sort of “waver in their faith” or not be too sure, or having “double” religious affiliations (being members of both the Church of Sweden, for instance, or more evangelic “free church” christian groups, as well as Asatru kindred X, Y or Z) but what I question, is whether or not leaders, or those who state themselves to be Godhis, or even “Rådsgydjas” (whatever that is supposed to mean) can have “double affiliations” and still remain credible…

    Or – what if someone suddenly would disccovr, that a certain “Gode of Västergötland” is an employee – for many years – of a neo-christian evangelist organisation known as SENSUS, the policy of which is to integrate “the one million names of God” (Yes, that is the Christian God, jehova, and none other…) into all faiths, thus not allowing for polytheism, and trying to bring everyone back under the monothiest fold.. are these people “Asatru” then, or are they something else entirely, such as “forn sed” perhaps ?

    (Again, I’m not saying that individual a,b, c or organisation X, Y, Z is hypocrite, or “false in beliefs” – but all I wonder is – are these “good for society” then – or “true to society” even, when they purport or falsely profess to be one thing, which they very obviously aren’t – and cannot be !)

    And what if organisation X, Y, Z should pose as an “Asatru” group, and then proceed to hold its yearly meetings at a site owned by Svenska Missionsförbundet, and Missionskyrkan ? Again, would that be trustworty – or credible then.. but – perhaps I digress…

    So many subjects, so many questions, and so little time – I for one certainly does have my own interpretation of things – but as for social mores, family as an ideal, the unmarried being banned, or banning people from freedom of speech, as well as political opinions (within the limits of a national parliament, let us say, but not fanning out unto non-parliamentary or even illegal political manifestations or acts) and pairing this with religion… no – here we do have a controversy of sorts..

  8. Wow! After reading all the comments I had to go back up and read the blog again because I lost the whole idea / point of what it was all about. Our community is important. But (This is my opinion not based on any great document or epiphany). Asatru for me is something that you have followed without knowing it. If I had never heard of Asatru I would still be following the virtues and many of the folkways because it is in our DNA and our culture.

    Everybody is saying that we have lost this or that etc.. and it’s true to a point. For me Asatru is about the individual, the family, small group, and up. The idea is to focus from small to big, Not big to small like Christianity or the modern pop culture. It’s inherently in us and all we have to do is listen to our inner voice / spirit / gods to start down our paths…

    For me Asatru is not and cannot be organized into dogma.. It’s about the real and for me it’s real because I see it..

    Hope that made sense because I might have got lost in there again. LOL.

  9. P.S. I don’t believe in the word convert when it comes to Asatru.. You just come to realize that you are once it’s revealed… For me it’s simple but hey I didn’t get and A in philosophy so there ya go.

  10. I looked into Asatru for quite a while, met several nice people, but decided to honor the Gods on my own, in a somewhat recon way. My “community” efforts are now geared to the larger community, not the Asatru one. When new to Asatru, Asatru, I talked about my previous religious experiences and got jumped on for using terms like “spiritual path”, which were not “Asatru” terms. Okay, fine, but just explain it to me dude, don’t treat me like a threat to your freaking well being. (The same person who pounced on me for that and a second “transgression” is presently asking Asatruars for money so that he can go to “Asatru School” in Scandinavia. So much for Heathen self-reliance.) I looked into kindreds and discovered that some of them function like private clubs. You have to have the right “chemistry” to get to be a member, a gazillion years down the road if you’re lucky, despite the fact that ancient kindreds were made up of people who didn’t share the same sparkling “chemistry”. Some uber-recons that I met were no different than Christian fundamentalists in their rigidity, and there were a even few Asatruars who were bemused that I believe that the Gods are REAL. I wish good Asatru folk well, but I decided that I don’t need this crap. I’m Heathen, but don’t call me an Asatruar.

    • I’m with you brother. I had very similar experiences with the Asatru kindred (more like Uber-Volkish Waccotruers) that I was involved with. In my trials with them and many of the people I had met through them, I found a group that was really just a pagan alternative to xtianity for rednecks. I also discovered that no matter how much they bragged about the king high shit leader they knew, they were dumb as fuck about their own path. Everything was 30 % Heathenry (at best) and the rest was politics. Some of the simplest questions couldn’t even be answered and while we all threw around terms like “Fluffy bunny” at Pagans, I met some of those so-called fluffy bunny “Wiccatruers” and found in them a group of people who were practicing the NNV a damn sight better than the group I was with did!

      I’m a Teutonic heathen and proud of it, but Asatru for me is just an umbrella term at best.

  11. My only problem with this otherwise well reasoned discourse is the notion that the self (in the individualist sense and not the egocentric definition) must take a back seat to the concerns of others. You really cannot be effectual in your community, Kindred, Country or anything else if a collectivist mentality must will out over your own needs, thoughts, liberties-etc. Our Nation (The States) was founded on the rights of the individual over the majority-so for me, there must be a happy medium somewhere. Besides, just about everything that we are involved in where groups are concerned (with very few exceptions) are groups that we ourselves have chosen. We choose friends, communities that we feel most comfortable living in, Kindreds that resonnate with us and even which Asas and Vanas we seek to make strong oaths to, all based on what we feel is best for us. This type of reasonable self focus cannot-and should not-be avoided and doing so is just living in denial.

    Selflessness and self denial (again, within reason) are xtian values-plain and simple.

    Dear Author, I sincerly request that you point out anything in your article that I am misperceving.

    Thanks. 🙂

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