Winter will fall fast on this farm. My mind is wrapped up heavily in the October work of animal slaughter for customer’s who bought halves or whole animals. Firewood is being stacked by the cord for winter heat. Hay is being purchased, stored, and set up in banks all around my community – fodder for the hoofstock I carry through the long cold months here south of the Adirondacks. Last week smaller chores also marked the season. I brought in a wagon of butternut squash, collected fallen apples for the piglets, and turned over the kailyard for the year. Even on days reaching oddly high temperatures for my region – it is snow that stalks my free time around this homestead. As a woman running her land by herself – it gives me a lot of time to think about what all this solitary time as a Heathen means.
I’ve come to this conclusion: it doesn’t mean much.
Heathenry is not a practice of the individual. It is the practice of your family, kindred, and the larger community. I am hard-lined about this and don’t feel solitary practice is even possible in our religion. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only Asatruar, Theodsman, or Heathen under your rooftree. It doesn’t matter if you don’t belong to a Kindred or even know another Heathen within a three-hour drive. What matters is the mentality and focus of your practice; that it isn’t about the self. It’s about what is better for others you care for and your community in general.
Telling American Heathens that they have to be community minded is sometimes met with such balking stubbornness it is laughable. Being told that you can’t just scribble runes into a tree, pour out some mead in a bowl, then go home and read the Eddas doesn’t make you Heathen is like saying you can’t have a slice of apple pie for dessert. The defiance towards community (in any sense) is what many in our religion see as the dividing line between Norse paganism and earnest Heathenry. Heathen, the verb, is to practice what is best for your community. It is to gain reputation from others by your deeds. It is to build worth in a worthless world. It is sacrifice. It is putting your people before you. It isn’t ‘Viking’ cosplay, a rock band, or a pendant around your neck. It isn’t covering your body with tattoos and praising a stranger you call Odin. No, Heathenry is your constant work to make the sphere of your everyday influence better.
Selfishness isn’t Heathen. It’s actually antithesis. We are reconstructing a religion that predates the modern world’s worship of individuality. There was no smoke detectors, insurance plans, and roadside assistance for our ancestors. Hel, they didn’t even have grocery stores. If you wanted to eat, be safe, and prosper you depended on the work and dedication of the people in your life. Tribalism was necessary, but it wasn’t worn as a false flag of isolationism. Most people’s reach was what a horse could travel in a day. Life was based on agriculture, not app culture. The world was larger because our reach was shorter and sailing small ships across the sea was an adventure of a lifetime, not a five-hour plane trip you paid for with a credit card. Just because our culture and technology have changed doesn’t mean our intention has to. Your focus should always be on those closest to you, but don’t you dare let that be an excuse for apathy for those outside of that group.
People cared about their family because it was all they had to care about. They had no idea if someone thirty miles away needed help rebuilding a burned home unless the message reached them. And if it did they were community-minded enough to know that sending help in a neighbor’s time of need meant the chances they would receive help in return one day would be multiplied. It meant others in their region saw that work and adjusted reputation accordingly. This has not changed. It never will.
I ask that the Heathens out there reading this dedicate themselves to the quiet, good, work of making Midgard a better place. Find time to help those in your family or brighten their day. Pay for the stranger’s coffee behind you in line. Drop off canned goods at your food pantry. Mow the elderly neighbor’s lawn without being asked. Make a donation to relief for those in need. Call your congressmen about injustice. Write a note to your spouse or child telling them how much you love them.
When you make offerings to ancestors and wights, may it be on behalf of your family and friends before your own needs. If you are of a mind to approach an offering to the Gods alone, do it on behalf of your people. If you have no people, you still have the line of ancestors that came before you. Take time to be grateful to them and to ask they watch over this turbulent world you weave your word in. It is understanding the import of other’s peaceful hearts and needs before your own. Here on the farm that howls with truth because my lifestyle demands an understanding of seasons, bloodshed, harvest, and hope. But that isn’t some special magic – it is also in your families, your backyards, your neighborhood, your history. We are all more alike than we give the time to consider. We all need to keep warm and fed over winter.
Now go out and be good Heathens in a godless world. Find your people. Build your worth. We need you more than ever.
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