Heathens have a wide variety of spiritual experiences. Some Heathens have little or no direct experiences with the Gods, while others develop devotional relationships with one or more Heathen deities. Of those who do have direct experiences with deity, many have been “chosen” by their individual deities, rather than vice versa. Others, such as myself, consciously sought out and developed a relationship with the deity of their choosing. Not all Heathens are as interested in a devotional relationship with a deity, and it is by no means necessary for all Heathens to develop one. However, I have found that this is the spiritual model that works best for me.
Where I’m Coming From
I am a Heathen and a Devotional Polytheist now, but I was raised Congregationalist–one of those English Protestant sects that came over with the Mayflower. Congregationalism is (and was, when I was a kid) about as close as a Christian church can get to being Unitarian while remaining under the Christian umbrella. As a result, I am not the stereotypical “recovering Catholic” kind of Heathen. I did not run to Paganism to escape some kind of repressive Christian upbringing, either in theology and praxis. If anything, I was attempting to find the distinct “mystical connection” with the Divine that the church of my childhood lacked. (I almost wish I had been raised Catholic, because at least they believed in miracles and in having personal relationships with saints.)
Growing up, I’d always been interested in mythology, folk tales, ancient cultures, and symbolism. By the time I hit high school, I was reading tarot cards and researching Celtic and Native America mythology. I read books by Charles de Lint and Morgan Llewellyn, and was your typical early 90s eclectic Pagan. Looking back, despite my very active involvement in my church, I had all of the hallmarks of an early 90s Pagan just waiting to happen. I had also been very interested in my Germanic/Scandinavian heritage, and researched my ancestry as best as I could.
Next Stop: Heathenry
So, I walked into Paganism specifically seeking that divine connection, and I was Wiccan for a few years before I found Heathenry. As soon as I found out that Heathenry existed, and that there was a spiritual movement that honored the Gods of pre-Christian Northern Europe, I signed right up. Right away, I found that I loved the sense of community that Heathen events had; the “low-church” ritual format; and that we interacted with the Gods and ancestors as if they were specific individuals who had agency (though I didn’t know to apply this term to my experience at the time). I just loved the “feel” of the Norse gods and their mythology. Though I had loved Ireland and all things Celtic, the Irish Gods and their myths had never really sat right with me. Even during the four years that I was Wiccan, I was “Norse Wiccan”, because when I did a divination to figure out who my deity Patrons were, I got Freya and Odin. (Freya and Odin: who I now know to be the unofficial Heathen Recruitment Team.)
Though I ignored Odin for many years, Freya sounded really cool (Viking Goddess of Love, Beauty, Sex, Magic, and the Chooser of the Slain? Yes, please!). She also felt very familiar, and I actively sought to build a relationship with Her. I read Her myths and any relevant Viking Age history and archaeological finds. I built Her an altar, wrote Her poetry, and lead classes and rituals in Her honor. Eventually, I ended up doing a long series of shamanic-type journeys to speak with Her, at the end of which I decided to dedicate myself to Her. I was blessed throughout this ten year process in that my Heathen communities in both Kentucky and California fully supported the kind of direct personal relationship with the deity.
To me, that was always the entire point: this is a spiritual choice, and I want to interact with the divine. Since most of the Heathens in my community already focused mainly on the Gods, ancestors, and landspirits (“landwights”) and attempted to reconstruct parts of the old spiritual practices, it really took me a long time to understand that many Pagans, including many Heathens, are just not that interested in the connecting with the deities themselves. FWIW, Heathenry, as well as all of the other reconstructed-ish religions, lend themselves very well to a Devotional Polytheist model.
Dealing with Doubt
Despite my interest in connecting with deity, it was really a challenge to actually get there–even with Freya, the deity I dedicated to first. For as long as I can remember, I have felt that Freya had been interested in me. Any problems and setbacks that came up in building our relationship with Her were due to me, not Her–my academic mindset; my modern skepticism; my fears of becoming a crazy person who hears voices; and my underlying doubt that, despite my fervent hopes, a deity would never actually be interested in someone as boring or untalented as me.
In school, it was much easier to study religion and religious groups than it was to fully take the jump and really believe in it all. It took many years of specifically and intentionally rewiring my brain to “loosen up” my academic, ethnographic mindset enough so that my brain would stop reporting and analyzing what was happening around me, and start acknowledging the experiences that I was having instead. Once I did, my relationships with Freya (and later Freyr and Gerd) deepened and became much more satisfying.
Though I still experience bouts of “religion is nonsense fed to the gullible” and “so I hear voices in my head… that can’t be good” occasionally, it happens much less frequently than it used to. And any time I try to convince Freya than I’m really just not that interesting or lovable or valuable, well… She’s also a goddess of self-worth and acknowledging one’s own value. She rarely lets that one slide.
Ways to do Devotional Polytheism in Heathenry
If you’re interested in becoming a devotional polytheist-type of Heathen, it’s actually pretty easy. As a reconstructed polytheist religion, all of the pieces are already in place. You do not need to have a “mystical” connection with a deity, or even have one specific deity in mind. You just need to have devotion for a deity or group of deities. Some ways to get started are:
- Create an altar for your deity/deities
- Research as much as you can about Them
- Make regular offerings to Them
- Meditate and/or pray to Them
And, above all, keep an open mind. The Gods do talk back.