I haven’t been reading as many blogs as usual due simply to mundane business (and my rather extreme avoidance of the internet), but I want to call attention a “phenomenon” which stuck out.
Two separate bloggers, which I’ll actually link this time, called for Heathens to consider re-naming themselves, in order to show distinctness from some of the major Heathen organisations. One is Robert Sass on his blog, related to discussions he brought up on his Facebook group, “Saxon Heathenry” (which I also recommend you take a look at). The other is on Axe and Plough.
I want to point out I’m not arguing with the positions of either of these writers, nor am I “calling them out” or criticizing them here. Actually, I am inclined to agree with both of their positions, at least in the case of what constitutes Heathen function. There is a huge amount of what is, well, lying which makes of the body of Heathen belief and practice right now. A lot of the common themes you see in Asatru and Heathen practice are taken by rote by newer Heathens, without awareness of its contemporary historical development. They don’t realize that some specific, modern people got together and made this shit up, basing it on some historical mostly-Norse data with various levels of accuracy, and incorporating their own ideas of what should and should not be done. A lot is being glossed over, and therefore sold and interpreted as “historical fact” when it is either more nuanced or completely inaccurate. That’s without even looking at the political foibles of Heathen groups, or their historical origins.
So I get the desire to clarify oneself. It is basically all I do on this blog, obviously. It’s frustrating to see a group of people make claims which cover you, and be like “no, we’re not all like that!” I think it was Sass who said recently, the two biggest problems in Heathenry are the racism and the historical inaccuracy, and I completely agree (though I frequently disagree with him on other things, as a note).
But I am concerned, in ways I can’t properly describe, at this desire for fracturing and separation. This is different than setting up a group of affiliated people who are like-minded. It feels like the same old reactionary “labeling” of everything which we are so fond of in our current Western culture. It feels like “US Protestant Heathenry” (similar discussions have come up within US Buddhism as well). Whether or not you’re from the US, you may want to take a look into the history of religion here, because we developed in a very fascinating way — the short of it here is, people got the opportunity to “shop” religions, something which today is considered normal and healthy. But this has created a sense where, if something doesn’t perfectly 100% match your own preexisting notions, you simply leave and find a new religion, or start on of our own.
Clearly neither I nor almost any other Heathen can complain about this too much, as we are nearly all “converts”. However, I think this is part of a much larger trend in our individualistic society: the complete lack of sense of responsibility for anybody but yourself.
Axe and Plough mentions “concentric circles of responsibility”, and I feel it aptly applies. My first responsibility is, of course, to my family (one main reason I don’t literally live in a cave yet), and then to my “IRL” group of Heathens to which I am attached. There is no name for this group, no official Uniform, it is just self-evident, the neural network of persons who are “linked” to me. (Folks who are not me often seem to prefer an “official” affiliation, each to their own.) But then, at least in terms of Heathenry goes, there is a larger community to which I am also within a “responsibility circle” — and that is all Heathens.
Note that I say all. I don’t say “the Heathens who happen to be like-minded”. That isn’t how community responsibility works. This is a major flaw in our society which is being reflected and repeated within Heathenry. We honestly believe if we don’t like someone, if they have different views, they are “other”. This is a lie. It’s a lie being used to manipulate us. While yes, we have concentric circles of responsibility, and therefore a greater personal responsibility to our closer “tribes”, that does not erase our responsibility to larger circles: as Heathens, as cities, as Americas, as humans.
One of my largest criticisms of groups like the AFA are completely hypocritical when they claim to prioritize “kin and kith”. It is clear that the moment one of their “kin” doesn’t wear the AFA uniform, they are no longer considered kin. This is not how kinship works, it is not how our ancestors worked, and it is not how we as Heathens should work. You don’t get to sever the ties of kinship (even “spiritual kinship” such as being Heathens) just because you don’t like someone.
This is my problem with this labeling and relabeling; I think it is a way to shirk the difficult responsibility we have to people we find unlikable. I’m not saying “welcome racists” nor “claim ahistorical data as truth” or anything of the sort; I’m saying that it is our responsibility to address those issues specifically because those issues are a part of our community, not because they are external problems warping us. The easy road is to claim that anybody who is a problem is actually not really one of us. But that road is a lie.
I don’t like the Troth or the AFA. I don’t like most of the groups I follow on Facebook, various offshoots of European paganism. I don’t like the Lokeans or the Northern Tradition folks. I don’t like Odinists. I don’t like “wiccatru” and I don’t like hard reconstructionists. I basically don’t like anybody, and very rarely find individuals I agree with 80% of the time, let alone 100%. Too fucking bad for me.
I agree with Robert Sass that the pushing of historical inaccuracies is crippling us (even though I don’t share his position that eclecticism is problematic or even a-historical). I agree with Axe and Plough that “unrealistic weight” is being placed on being “part of the group” to the detriment of personal (and familial) development. I am one of those “disenfranchised” people spoken of in that post who, when I look at Heathen groups, often feels like I maybe should give up my religion, since I don’t see myself reflected there. (Why don’t I leave? Because this isn’t a fucking hobby, nor a consumerist identity-grab.) Combining these two positions, I feel it is completely ahistorical foolishness to say that our ancestors simply stopped worshiping the gods if their “group” didn’t happen to be around. I am single and have no children, and so my “hearth” is essentially myself; such is the way American lives play out.
I’m sure whenever I get around to codifying my personal “tradition” that I will give it a name, but I hope I can find a way to avoid the pitfalls that have trapped some organizations, and which I hope others with whom I share some views, like Sass or Axe and Plough, will also find a way around. I support their efforts. Whether I like it or not, I am within the circle of “Heathen”, and I have a responsibility to that circle of frith, honesty, and justice. I want people to stop being shitty racist liars because it’s better for them as well as for me. It is better for our community.
While I don’t like all this labeling, I do feel some hopefulness in a larger trend, towards a better restructuring of what it means to be Heathen, one that is based in both honesty about our historical past (both ancestrally and recently as modern Heathens), and one that functions in today’s practical reality instead of mimicking romanticized false ideas of tribalism and Viking aesthetic.
I look forward to reading future works.