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Why Heathenry is Awesome: A Detailed List

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Every Heathen’s reasons for choosing Heathenry are different: Xander Folmer argues that Heathenry is a “religion of questions” and supports a skeptical, questioning attitude. Molly Khan from Heathen at Heart, talks about how the Heathen worldview supports her connection to the land, the ancestors, and the Gods. Tyra Ulsdottir, instead, argues for a more literalist definition of Heathenry based on the history and etymology of the term ‘Heathen’ itself. As for me, I have a ton of reasons–that’s why my column at Patheos used to be called “Happily Heathen”, after all.

Viking Age jewelry from Birka, at the Swedish HIstory Museum / Cara Freyasdaughter
Viking Age jewelry from Birka, at the Swedish History Museum / Cara Freyasdaughter

Why Heathenry is Awesome

Due to this, I’ve decided to make this post a list. I’ll call it my “Why Heathenry is Awesome” list. While you go through this, please keep in mind that I’m not saying that other Pagan traditions don’t have these qualities. I’m just most familiar with Heathenry, and I know Heathenry has ’em.

So without further ado, here are the reasons that, seventeen years later, I’m still happily Heathen:

  1. There is so much to learn. There so many places that one can really delve deep into this tradition–on academic, experiential, artistic, and magical levels. Also, many relevant and useful things are still being discovered by archaeologists, scientists, and linguists every day. It’s very satisfying to know that I will never run out of ways to grow and change in this tradition. As we say (only somewhat facetiously) “Asatru/Heathenry is the religion with homework!”
  2. Maynard, Scott. "Those in Glass Houses." Happle Tea. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015. http://www.happletea.com/>.Maynard, Scott. “Those in Glass Houses.” Happle Tea. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.
  3. The Norse Gods. I love ’em. So complex, so human. So tragic, inspirational, hilarious, and fascinating. They don’t take any crap. They continue on in the face of certain doom with a lust for life and all that is in it. And, in my experience, They are still very interested and active in the modern world.
  4. We focus on creating community, as well as honoring the Gods, ancestors, and land spirits. High-powered energy work is great, but that’s not really the goal of most Heathen events. My beau, a relatively new Heathen who’s had decades of experience watching Pagan in-fighting, has pointed out that in his experience, most Pagan groups tend to focus more on ritual and secrecy and less on community. I’ve been embedded in the Heathen world for so long that it hadn’t occurred to me that other traditions might not make this one of their top priorities. (“What do you mean, there’s no potluck?!”)
  5. Our ritual style is “low-church”. You can create detailed, heavily scripted rituals if you want, but it’s just not necessary. Mainly, our rituals just boil down to toasting the Gods and having the aforementioned potluck. (Also, wearing ritual garb is strictly optional. I just like wearing my Viking apron dress. Yay Viking bling!)
  6. We tend to be practical and get stuff done. For example, Heathens have been filling many of the staffing needs for PantheaCon, the world’s largest indoor pan-Pagan convention, for years. Generally, if Heathens say that they will do a Thing, they do the Thing. “You are your deeds” being a key part of our worldview.
  7. Runestone from Gotland, Sweden. Odin and Sleipnir / Cara FreyasdaughterRunestone from Gotland, Sweden. Odin and Sleipnir / Cara Freyasdaughter
  8. A version of our religion actually existed at one point in time. It was practiced by thousands of people over the course of many centuries. Heathenry, in all of its forms, is based on the religious beliefs and practices which flourished for hundreds of years up until the end of the Viking Age (and, in some places, beyond then as well). During that time, the religion developed complexity, nuance, and practical, day-to-day relevance in the way that only a  religion that evolved over centuries can do. Of course, maybe I’m a bit biased because I originally came at Heathenry from an academic perspective; but for me, this has always been a huge point in Heathenry’s favor.
  9. Finally, there’s room for almost everyone at our table–polytheists; archetypalists; scholars; mystics; atheists. I explain this diversity to newcomers by saying that two of our core Heathen concepts are Hospitality and Frith (“peaceful actions and words between attendees”). Therefore, it is in the nature of our religion to welcome in new people and ideas.The only ones who should not get a seat at Heathen theological table, in my opinion, are those who bring in external political agendas and bigotry.

This is not to say that we all agree and get along all the time. Whenever you have two Heathens together, you’ll get five opinions. Heathens are fiercely independent; that’s just our overall mindset. Also, Wiccans are not the only groups that have had flame wars–we Heathens have our curmudgeonly Lore-thumpers (kind of like Bible-thumpers, but in alliterative verse), and the occasional flame war over whether a given person is living up to Heathen Values ™. And don’t get us started on UPGs (Unsubstantiated/Unverified Personal Gnosis; ie, insights you’ve had into the details of the religion which are not specifically attested in the Lore). Or, even worse, Loki. (Nothing gets Heathens arguing among themselves more that the topic of Loki. As true now as it was in the Viking Age.)

Still, all things considered, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Heathenry, for me, continues to be an incredibly satisfying spiritual and religious practice.

Where will Heathenry go in the future?

I’m no longer a scholar of the Heathen religion, just a practitioner. So while I don’t know where Heathenry is headed, I can tell you what I hope will happen in Heathenry in the future, and what I myself am working to bring about.

I hope that the religion continues to grow, with more public Heathen temples and shrines opening up across the world. I hope that more practitioners write about their love for the Gods, ancestors, and landspirits, and the knowledge they have gained in honoring them. I hope that more and more people are called to work with all of the Norse Gods, both the obscure ones and the well-known ones, and that they become inspired to create and carry on their own version of the Heathen tradition. And I hope that, as a result of bringing back some of this old knowledge and wisdom into our modern world, all of our lives become richer. I know my life has been better off because of it.

 


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