Self Taught Heathenry: Learning How to Learn
In this day and age, it is incredibly easy to go online and find resources. It is actually amazing that so many of us have small devices in our pockets that allow us to look up virtually anything. Of course, this “virtually anything” includes a lot of opinions, especially when you’re researching a religious topic.
There are a lot of opinions out there in Heathenry…
It can be helpful to research the authors that you are reading — find out about their pasts as well as other things they have written. Observe how they interact with the community. If their morals mesh well with yours, then they’re probably a fairly “safe” (ethically speaking) source for you to use. Then there comes the issue of finding someone who writes some quality content, some of the time, but has issues with their moral character that are in direct opposition to yours. Times like those are why it is important to be critical of everything you read, and why you need to be willing to engage with a text. Be willing to critique an author and include that critique in discussions you might have pertaining to the topic where you bring them up.
“I don’t agree with Blank McBlank on most things, but I did find this interesting… so I researched it and found alternative resources.”
I generally refuse to give my money to people who I oppose (because most of those I take issue with are horribly racist, typically) but I do help myself to their bibliographies if their topic is particularly interesting and I want to find a source that doesn’t have their name branded all over it. If they don’t have a bibliography, then what they’ve written is probably pure opinion and should be regarded as such.
Now, you aren’t always going to be able to find the information you want or need online. Most times, yes, but there are times where you might want to be able to hold a physical book in your hands or you may not be able to find a PDF copy of it anywhere. Then there’s the fun reality of not being able to shell out $200 for a book that is no longer in print…
This is where your local library comes into play. They may have something in their collection that is useful, but even if they don’t… they can order it in for you, via Interlibrary Loan. This process is typically very low cost (usually a mailing fee). All you have to do is ask your librarian about interlibrary loan. They’ll most often have you fill out a form. That form goes to the person in charge of ILL, they order the book — and bam, a matter of time later, you have that text in your hands. Your local library can order resources from university libraries, so don’t be afraid to ask if they can find it. I’ve been able to find things like The Road to Hel, Teutonic Religion, and a Piece of Horse Liver. If they can’t find the book for you for any reason, they’ll let you know.
I really suggest reading books in addition to online articles, even if you’re reading on some sort of eReader. I love my Kindle Paperwhite and have it loaded up with a bunch of Heathen resources. Just because it is electronic doesn’t mean it isn’t a book! Build up your own personal bibliography so that you have a good reference point for what people are talking about in the articles that you read online. I have kept a Word document in the past with titles, authors, and summaries so that I would be able to go back and find them easily. Or, alternatively, I bookmark a lot of things in my browser.
I am also going to suggest using Wikipedia, but not how a poor performing student uses it to plagiarize an essay. No, what I instead suggest is that you scroll down to “Sources” and “External Links”. There, you’ll see the bibliography used to write the Wikipedia article. You can then go and personally look up those resources and use them for yourself. Of course, there is a chance you’ll have a less than stellar resource in the mix but there is just as good a chance that you’ll have an excellent one. From there, it will be up to you to obtain that resource online, through a bookstore, or your local library. Unfortunately, you may come across something that is virtually unobtainable but so far for me, that has been relatively rare.
If you have trouble finding a resource, don’t be afraid to turn towards your community — in person or online. Someone may have it or have access to it, and more important yet they may be willing to share with you. I know that I wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for the hard and diligent work of people within the online communities I have been a part of. When I first got involved with Heathenry online in 2012, it was because of Grumpy Lokean Elder‘s compilation and review of resources that I had any idea what to do with myself beyond the oft-repeated “read the Eddas”. GLE also made himself readily available to answer questions for a long period of time, though his blog is now on hiatus. There are other people within the community who are willing to answer questions, provide guidance, and direct newer Heathens towards resources. Just like you should be cautious of the resources that you’re consuming, I urge you to be cautious of giving someone within the community your blind trust. No one is in control of your faith besides you, and you alone. If you get a bad feeling about the person, what they’re doing or saying to you, disengage. If you see them behaving poorly towards other people, disengage. Use your best judgment.
There are so many resources available to use out there. I encourage you to seek them. At the same time, I encourage other more experienced Heathens to have some patience — don’t just reply to newcomers with “read the Eddas”. If you are able to, have the spoons to do so, or the ability in any way — try and direct them towards resources that you found to be genuinely helpful. I can’t help but feel many individuals wind up discouraged from pursuing Heathenry because they were only told to read the Eddas and not directed towards other resources that are indeed out there. Yes, Heathenry is “the faith with homework” but no student has ever been able to do homework well when they aren’t clear on what the assignment is, much less what they are supposed to be learning.
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