Huginn’s Heathen Hof 2016 Demographic Survey Findings
Heathenry is a new, growing, and developing religious movement in the modern world. In spite of this Heathenry has seen little formal study or research to determine the overall makeup, nature, and composition of our community. The first two major works of this nature of Heathenry were Dr. Karl Seigfried’s revolutionary 2013 Worldwide Heathen Census and Prof. Jennifer Snook’s groundbreaking work American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement.
Beginning in November of 2016 Huginn’s Heathen Hof conducted a survey intended to build on these previous scholarly works. Our demographic survey was intended to determine the general makeup of the global Heathen community. The survey officially closed at the beginning of February 2017 after collecting a total of 512 responses from all over the world. For the purposes of our survey we used the same definition of Heathen as was used in the Worldwide Census which includes but is not limited to those who identify as Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, Ásatrú, Asatro, Firne Sitte, Forn Sed, Forn Siðr, Germanic Heathenry, Germanic Neopaganism, Germanic Paganism, Heathenism, Heathenry, Norse Paganism, Norse Religion, Northern Tradition, Odinism, Old Way, Theodism, Urglaawe, or Vanatru or any other spiritual practice influenced by the traditions and practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples.
The main methods for distributing this survey were through the Huginn’s Heathen Hof Facebook page, other Heathen Facebook fan pages, referring the survey to officers of Heathen organizations such as the Troth, and through direct promotion and word of mouth. We further worked to make the sample accessible by translating it into Spanish, Portuguese, and German. The data itself was collected using a Google Form survey. We recognize there are shortcomings and weaknesses to this approach as there are many who may have otherwise participated who would not have received the survey. It also required all participants to have a Google account to complete it. It was also difficult to get the survey to any incarcerated Heathens due to the restrictions on Internet access for incarcerated persons.
These limitations notwithstanding the data sample collected provides a very promising start for future investigations into the demographic makeup of the modern Heathen movement. The sample we collected was very geographically diverse, spread across all age groups, and based on the total numbers collected more than sufficient to provide a statistically significant sample for the American, Canadian, Costa Rican, British, and Brazilian Heathen populations. To compensate for the lack of response from members of groups like the Asatru Folk Assembly, who were previously denounced for their racist spiritual doctrines by over two hundred Heathen organizations from around the world, we will be using a multiplier for the handful of responses from members of this and similar organizations to estimate the influence of their members on specific elements regarding Heathen community data.
Based on this we at Huginn’s Heathen Hof feel we can speak with confidence regarding the Heathen populations of the United States of America, Canada, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. Because of this, we will be using statistics for the USA, Canada, and the UK as a baseline for comparison to the general population. We do not feel we can speak with certainty regarding any Heathen populations anywhere yet even still we feel these findings are a crucial step forward in understanding our community, its makeup, and providing a foundation for future research into modern Heathenry.
The overall age, ethnic, and gender data gathered from our respondents has provided some invaluable insights into the nature of our community. The first key findings to be presented are regarding the age of the respondents. As is shown in the chart below Heathenry is, demographically speaking, a very young religious movement. A solid majority of Heathens are under the age of 35. What this suggests is modern Heathenry had limited reach in earlier years yet has rapidly picked up momentum far more recently. The age gap strongly argues the likely cause was the rise of the Internet. Prior to its widespread development and adoption, most people interested in Heathenry would have only heard of our practices through word of mouth. The explosion of cyberspace, which studies show is most widely used by younger people, would have made it much easier for information on Heathenry to reach far more people.
However, as data gathered by this survey on the main avenues to Heathenry show, such an explanation does not fully explain the generation gap. Another possible explanation is that younger people tend to be more open to spiritual exploration and challenging accepted societal norms. Regardless of the exact reasons why there is a substantial generation gap in the Heathen community. This gap also strongly suggests Heathenry is a growing community with large numbers of new converts filling out this expanding movement.
Ethnically speaking Heathenry consists predominantly of individuals of European descent, whether they are residents of Europe or not. The largest group by self-identification after “White” are those who identify by more specific groups and cultures that are grouped under that label. A total of 14.23% of all respondents chose to identify by a specific ethnic group, such as Scottish, Scots-Irish, Irish, German, or some other form of descent instead of choosing to identify as “White”, a clear rejection of the broader standards in modern society. Given Heathen ancestor veneration practices it is possible this form of identification is a reflection of these practices. Regardless of the reason, this is a clear rejection of the broader concept of whiteness by a substantial portion of Heathens and for this reason, alone it is worthy of note.
The next largest set of groups, ethnically speaking, within Heathenry were those who identified as being of mixed heritage, Native American background, or as Latinos. Though the whole conglomerate group was the largest segment outside of those of European descent, individually, they were each a small proportion of the larger community, each representing between two and three percent of all respondents.
The gender breakdown of respondents conformed to existing anecdotal experiences in the Heathen community. A solid majority consisting of 58.8% respondents identified as Cisgender Males, 36.36% identified as Cisgender Females, 3.09% identified as Genderqueer or Genderfluid, 0.97% identified as Transgender, and 0.77% identified as Agendered meaning they do not hold to either masculine or feminine identity as defined by society today. The most striking element of the responses is how strongly male dominated Heathenry is. Unlike existing global numbers, where the gender divide between male and female is far more even, there is a clear tilt towards the masculine end of the spectrum in the Heathen community. Given that, as later data shows, the vast majority of Heathens are converts, this suggests that Heathenry as it currently stands is a form of Pagan spirituality that attracts large numbers of men.
What is also striking about these findings is the large numbers of people who identify in a fashion outside of the conventional gender binary in Heathenry. Currently, there are only a handful of studies on the size of the transgender population and there is no solid number for the entire planet. A recent US study by the Williams Institute estimated 0.6% of the US population identified as Transgender while a similar study by the Daily Caller found 0.1% of all persons in the United Kingdom identified as Transgender. It is therefore quite surprising that a total of 0.97% of all Heathens surveyed identified as Transgender, a larger percentage than either of these studies have found for the general population.
The number of genderfluid people in the world is harder to pin down so what the 3.09% figure represents in comparison to the broader population is difficult to determine. What is clear is there is a substantial number of nonbinary Heathens in the broader community. Taken together these two figures show that Heathenry is definitely outside of the norm when it comes to accepted forms of gender identity and gender concepts. This fact becomes even more intriguing when one takes into account the data we collected on Heathen sexuality.
Relationships and Sexuality
Of all Heathens who responded to our survey, the largest group by relationship status were married Heathens making up a total of 43.5% of all responses. This is a pretty substantial number but when compared to the rates for the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom it is actually below average. With the US rate at 55%, the Canadian rate at 46.4%, and the UK rate at 51% the average Heathen rate of 43.5% is solidly below these existing numbers. The next largest proportion of the overall Heathen population in relationship terms are those who were, at the time of the survey, single and not in a romantic relationship. Following this were the 10.37% currently in a long-term relationship and the 6.71% currently cohabitating with their partner outside of formal marriage. A total of 11.99% of respondents, at the time of the survey, had been divorced with 5.08% having since remarried.
This data suggests that Heathens follow somewhat different relationship dynamics than the mainstream population but not substantially so. In this way, Heathens are not far outside of known norms for broader populations and one could argue, in terms of relationships, Heathens are fairly conventional. Heathen families are also somewhat normal in terms of size & percentage with children. By the numbers, it’s nothing outside of the statistical average; 2.25 children per couple with kids and 44.03% having kids out of the overall sample group.
Sexuality, however, is an area where once again Heathens buck existing mainstream trends. As per the Williams Institute of UCLA in 2011 only 3.5% of all Americans were estimated to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In the United Kingdom this number was found in 2015 to be 1.7% and in Canada 5% are estimated to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. The numbers for respondents to our survey were very different from those found in these surveys. Unlike the populations cited above only 66.8% of all Heathens who responded considered themselves to be heterosexual. The next largest percentage of Heathens by sexuality were those who identified as bisexual coming in at 16.2% of all respondents. 4.8% of all respondents were either gay or lesbian with the rest listing themselves as demisexual, queer, pansexual, or omnisexual. A further 1.6% declared themselves to be asexual. Overall these numbers are substantially different from those found in the larger surveys for populations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
This suggests that Heathenry has a far larger LGBT population, with the B portion of the acronym taking the lead than mainstream populations. It would be a stretch to claim that Heathenry is inherently queer-friendly but given the data it is reasonable to assume that Heathen practice and the Heathen community is more welcoming of queer sexuality than mainstream society. One respondent from Costa Rica specifically noted that one of their reasons for studying and practicing Heathenry was because there was nothing, unlike Catholicism, condemning them to an eternity of suffering for being gay. Even though there are a number of Heathen organizations, such as the Asatru Folk Assembly, who assert mainstream gender norms and relationships as the standard to aspire to it is clear from this data that such claims are out of step with what is the case in the Heathen community.
More Heathens possess at least a Bachelor’s degree than the existing averages for the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. A total of 39.8% were found to have at least a Bachelor’s degree with a further 36.8% having conducted some college or university studies. 9.2% were found to have completed trade or technical school of some sort. Overall this shows that Heathens, on average, are somewhat better educated than the mainstream population though not substantially so.
Of those who responded a total of 15.93% are currently members of a labor union or other professional association, 13.65% own a small business, 19.69% were sole proprietors or independent artisans who support themselves directly through their labor, and 4.29% were on the board of a for-profit corporation of some sort. 16.37% of all respondents were currently or previously in their nation’s armed forces and 2.34% were in law enforcement. Of all respondents, 34.61% own real estate or currently have a mortgage.
In spite of these numbers, it seems that economic precarity is far more common than one would like to see. 27.88% of all respondents were either currently unemployed or had been unemployed in the past six months. A further 1.91% were homeless. As is shown in more detail in the chart below it is definitely not the norm for Heathens to own their own property with the vast majority renting their primary home. It is clear from the economic data that, by all conventional measures, Heathenry is very broadly a working class form of spirituality with very few in positions of genuine economic security.
It has often been said that Heathenry is a communal form of spirituality. It is assumed by many Heathens as well as Pagans that Heathens are more likely to be in some form of religious organization, such as a kindred or other larger national organization. It was therefore quite surprising to us to find that the vast majority of Heathens surveyed are, in fact, solitary practitioners.
This was quite surprising given what is commonly assumed regarding Heathenry as well as what has been written regarding Heathen practice. Yet, if one considers Heathenry to be a part of the broader Pagan umbrella, it is well within expected norms. An even larger majority of Pagans were found in the recent Pagan Census to be solitaries with the census authors arguing that solitary practice was likely the future and norm for Paganism. Though a larger percentage of Pagans, a total of 79% versus our 64.11%, are solitary than Heathens giving some credence to the claim that Heathenry is a more communal form of practice the data shows this is not a substantial enough margin to claim Heathens are inherently more communal in nature. It would be more accurate to argue that, while the ideal is one of a thriving and active spiritual community, the truth is most Heathens tend to be solitaries.
The reasons why Heathens tend to be solitary shed further light on this question and help understand the reason this is the case. As is shown in our data the largest percentage of respondents stated they were solitary due to the lack of any active Heathen community in their locale they were able to physically reach. What was quite worrying in our data was the sheer number of Heathens, a total of 14.44% of respondents, who reported their reasons for staying solitary were explicitly because of groups and practitioners who use Heathenry as a platform for promoting white nationalism and other forms of bigotry. This suggests that, following the lack of known Heathen organizations in a number of areas, that the biggest obstacle to forming functioning Heathen communities are racist and bigoted Heathens. This is especially distressing when one considers how marginal these groups are in the broader community as is shown by our data.
This lends one to ask what the actual proportion of Heathens are who follow bigoted forms of spirituality. One of the most well-known and long-standing forms of measuring this is what is known as the Jarnsaxa Scale. The scale measures where Heathens stand on the question of including people in Heathen groups from one to six. Those ranked as one are aggressively inclusive, refusing to practice with those who practice any form of bigoted spirituality, while those who are a six are active and aggressive white supremacists.
Our data, based on the free form responses given by participants, shows the vast majority of Heathens favor inclusive practice. A total of 87.52% were found to be a two on the scale, meaning they feel the only restrictions on people practicing Heathenry should be based on if they adhere to Heathen practice and Heathen ideas with no restrictions placed in terms of race, gender, sexuality, heritage, or national origin. A further 4.16% were found to be militantly inclusive, asserting they are opposed to Heathenry being used as any sort of platform for bigotry of any sort. 8.32% in total fell on a three or lower, supporting everything from mild to strong restrictions for denying practice to people based on race, heritage, or national origin.
It is here, and only here, that we found it appropriate to use the multiplier for the responses from those from known to be exclusive organizations. This was because there was insufficient consistency in these results to project based on any measure yet the people coming from such organizations are part of groups with strong, uniform doctrines regarding inclusivity and exclusivity. Even with this modifier it was found that the solid majority of Heathens support inclusivity without qualifications or special conditions.
What was consistent in the data is that inclusivity, rather than exclusivity and bigotry, is the norm for modern Heathenry. The widespread perception of Heathens as supporters of white nationalist ideology is one that is likely the result of the amount of time, space, and volume given to such groups as opposed to anything reflected in the reality of modern Heathen practice.
In the data analyzed it was found the vast majority of Heathens are very new in their practice. As is shown in the chart above many are very new to the practice, lending further weight to the argument that Heathenry is a young and rapidly growing form of spirituality. This conclusion is further supported by our data showing the estimated age of Heathens at their time of conversion.
As is shown in this data the majority of Heathens converted during their late teens and early to mid-twenties. When combined with the earlier data showing the overall age curve of the Heathen community this strongly shows that most of the people coming to Heathenry are doing so at a relatively young age. Of those who converted before the age of 10 this was due to the influence of a family member or relative, the rest found their way on their own. This leaves no question the future of Heathenry lies in the growing youth segment of our community.
What is also interesting is the main avenues that brought people to Heathenry. Somewhat unsurprising is the large percentage of Heathens who found our form of practice through online sources and the Internet but what is also interesting is there are no real dominant means by which people came to Heathenry. Many came by way of other forms of Pagan practice or other spiritual paths and during religious studies of their own. In stark contrast to claims that Heathenry is largely fueled by people seeking their roots only 5.45% of all respondents actually said exploring their heritage is what brought them to Heathenry. It is clear there are many paths bringing people to modern Heathen practice and most are through other means of exploration, study, and introspection.
In our survey data, we also collected information on who the main influences, authors, and thinkers are in modern Heathenry. That information is shown in the word cloud above. Far and away the largest source of ideas and information was through the direct study of the lore, mythology, and folklore of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples. In this way, Heathenry is a very book-learning based form of practice. Following this in direct importance were the works of Diana Paxson who was, far and away, the most commonly mentioned and cited author. Others, such as Kveldulf Gundarsson and Edred Thorsson, were fairly influential but neither were as significant as Paxson. Many others stand out but none match Paxson or come close to the influence of direct lore study.
We also surveyed political attitudes within the Heathen community to determine what the overall political spectrum of our community is. Much to our surprise, given the widespread assumptions of Heathenry as an inherently conservative practice, Heathenry is very strongly left of center to far left in its political opinions. Our data found there were more center-left Heathens than all Heathens from center-right to far right combined, nearly as many solidly left wing Heathens as there were center right Heathens, and more ‘far left’ Heathens than right wing and far right Heathens combined. It is likely this is, in part, influenced by the broader patterns of sexuality and economics in Heathenry. The large percentage of Heathens in precarity, coupled with the far larger number of Queer Heathens compared to the broader population, are likely strong influences in pushing the Heathen political spectrum solidly to the left. It is also possible that Heathens tend towards the left in part as a direct reaction to the vocal, but clearly marginal, far right and right wing segments.