If you’re a Heathen and you’ve been online in the past couple weeks, you’ve probably noticed a new hashtag surfacing: #HavamalWitches. The sheer volume of posts on this topic has had many wondering what it’s all about or how it got started.
#HavamalWitches is a hashtag that highlights the stories of women and femmes who have experienced sexism in Heathenry. Part venting to those who can relate and part advocation for change, the hashtag exploded in popularity after its start from Canadian gyðja, national event leader, and founder of multiple kindreds and Heathen gatherings, Jade Pichette.
Pichette, discussing her motivations, notes “I was really tired of how sexist the Heathen community is, even among those who consider themselves inclusive. I constantly see women and femmes having their experiences, knowledge, and labor going unrecognized. I was like, let’s actually address this, let’s make this a hashtag.” Inspired by a popular meme [See Below], Pichette first used the new hashtag in a discussion of the stereotype that women talk more than men.
“So Why witches?”
It’s a term that’s easy for anyone to get a handle on, removing barriers to understanding. “I chose specifically to use the term ‘witch‘ because it’s accessible language,” Pichette explains. “One of the things that’s important to me is being inclusive in the things that we do, and that means being inclusive in the language that we use.”
“In the Heathen community, people basically treat the Havamal like it’s the Bible,” Pichette observes. “It was written down by a Christian monk, a Christian scholar, of course, there’s sexism in there!”
Despite the passage of time and changes in these attitudes, these problems continue to surface in Heathen spaces today. “Even within the groups that say they’re against sexism, oppression, racism, et cetera, we make mistakes,” Pichette explains. Thus, the work towards inclusive Heathenry is ongoing. Pichette was the founder of the Canadian Pagan Declaration on Intolerance, with 110 organizations from 8 provinces signing on, and she also coordinated the Canadian response to Declaration 127. “We have to step up in our communities,” Pichette says. “We have to challenge things. If we don’t, if we’re scared to, what does that say? What does that say to our children? What does that say to our communities? What does that say to our own folk, if we don’t stand up?”
#HavamalWitches exploded in popularity while Pichette went away to lead the Hail and Horn gathering, the largest annual Heathen event in Canada. First members of Pichette’s local Heathen community were posting it; then Heather O’Brien, the force behind Heathen Underground, shared it to an audience of over 12,000 and created artwork in support of what was now becoming a new movement.
“I deliberately included different colors and shapes to represent equality amongst all women in Heathenry. The goddess figure represents a woman standing tall and proud in front of the Mjolnir, our most widely recognized symbol,” says O’Brien of her image.
Many #HavamalWitches posts followed. At the time of this writing, #HavamalWitches was a trending hashtag with “over 1000 people talking about this” according to Facebook. Here is a small sampling:
Backlash inevitably came too, frequently in the form of men disregarding or trivializing the experiences being shared by women.
Others, however, were more open to listening and making positive changes. “We had a lot of men who took it to heart; some who actually said ‘Wow, I’m seeing myself right now. How can I change that?’ That is the heartening thing for me,” says Pichette. “Some people assumed there was a singular incident or a singular part of the community [referenced by the hashtag]; it wasn’t. These were just people expressing the things they had experienced for years. Part of the reason I wanted to express it so much is not because of myself and the experiences I had had myself.”
#HavamalWitches soon leaped from Facebook posts to full-length articles that started springing up all over the place. One of the first came from Danica Swanson, founder of Black Stone Hermitage, co-admin of the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism Discussion Group, and devotee of Skaði and Móðguðr.
“The #HavamalWitches movement gives me hope for the future of Heathenry,” says Swanson. “It’s like a Heathen feminist consciousness-raising group. The #HavamalWitches stories, taken as a whole, are showing us that sexism in our modern religious movement is about more than the boorish behavior of a few bad apples, or a few sexist stanzas in the Hávamál. Sexism is a structural problem. It’s embedded in culture. It’s so common – so normalized – that many people don’t even know how to recognize it. It took me many years of reading feminist writings to understand how pervasive and entrenched it is, and how it’s unconsciously reinforced, even by well-meaning people who perceive themselves as allies. But we are the religion with homework, right? So we’re well prepared to read and learn about how social systems affect us. If we were to put even half the effort into directly and openly addressing sexism that we do into studying the mythic corpus or glorifying Vikings, we could make Heathenry much more welcoming.”
Given the volume and intensity of the response to #HavamalWitches, it seems this was a message that resonated for many. Discussions were sparked within Heathen organizations that extended for hundreds of comments.
Lorrie Wood, a prominent Heathen leader who has been part of the community for over 20 years, noted the impact of #HavamalWitches on some of the larger organizations within the community. She speaks with experience and authority as a founder of the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry, a former Þyl (second in command) for Hrafnar, a past member of the Troth’s High Rede (board of directors), and with service experience in the Troth that would take paragraphs to explain. She’s currently Assistant Editor of the Troth’s quarterly journal, Idunna, and technical lead for their Publications Department.
“Hrafnar was founded over twenty-five years ago, and has had women and queerfolk within it, and leading it, since its earliest days. So, within the kindred where I learned how to be a heathen, I can’t say I was on the receiving end of sexist treatment.
On the national level…it was not the same. But I have also had a long career in IT, long a male-dominated field. Over time, I found that when I moderated my communications style to be more male-typical, my ideas had more mileage, but I was not aware of this as an indication of systemic sexism—which, to be fair, I credit as bleed-through from the Western overculture rather than anything specific to Heathenry.
In 2016, HHH contributor and instigator John T Mainer sent around a survey of Heathen women. The article based on the results got a bit of mileage in the wake of the hashtag, as should be expected. I made substantial contributions to that survey, based in no small part on my treatment by the leadership of the time. That leadership has changed, as indeed has much of the tenor of the organization’s leadership, or I would never have posted that hashtag to the Troth’s Facebook group. The discussion that ensued went about as well as I had expected, but better than I had feared.”
When asked where the #HavamalWitches are going next, Pichette shared some powerful thoughts on what the movement has accomplished so far, and what it could do in the future.
“I want Heathenry to be a place where women are comfortable, where they feel that they have a place that is just as equal to the men and they get power from the gods, the disir, and the landvaettir. I was seeing a lot of women saying explicitly that they were leaving Heathenry. About why they didn’t consider themselves Heathens anymore, because of the sexism that they were experiencing. If Heathenry is a place where women don’t feel that they are included, that they are supported, that they can find strength, and they feel like they need to leave Heathenry, then there is a problem we need to address, and that’s why we’re doing this. The moment that I knew it was entirely worthwhile was when a woman in our local community said that she now wanted to come back. It was that one story that was like, ok, I’m doing this for the right reason.
What I’m hoping for is that women and femmes can use it as a way to express the pain that they’re already experiencing. I’m hoping that men in our communities start to reflect on some of the ways that they have been impactful on those issues, or where they have stayed silent. I’m hoping that men use it as an opportunity to realize where they’ve fallen behind. I hope that everyone is reflecting, and using it as a space to learn or to heal. Not everyone will, that’s not in my control, but that’s my hope.”
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