Pop Culture Heathens
Quick, without Googling, name five Heathen gods or goddesses other than Odin, Thor, Freyja, Loki, or Hel. Now, assuming you didn’t cheat, can you tell me whether they’re Aesir, Vanir, Alfar, or Jotunn? (Again without Googling.)
If the names came easily to you, chances are you’ve been in Heathenry awhile. If you’ve equivocated on some of the races of the gods, chances are you’ve been in Heathenry for years.
However, if you really can’t name five, let alone understand why anyone would equivocate on what race some of the gods were, then you’re probably new at this. You may have come to Heathenry through pop culture, either from watching one of the Thor movies or watching Vikings. And that’s okay.
Neophyte Heathens and Asa-popes
The other day, I was talking to an agnostic on Facebook (yeah, you know who you are) who quizzed me about being a real Heathen. I wasn’t really bothered by it, but it got me to thinking about the Neo-Heathens who have joined Heathenry from watching pop culture movies and TV shows about Vikings and the gods. (Marvel springs to mind.) I also started thinking about the tendency for certain people in our religion to declare themselves gatekeepers or Asa-popes. Inevitably, there’s a clash between the Asa-popes and the neo-Heathens, because the Asa-popes and Gatekeepers are annoyed with the neophytes. They are annoyed that someone would show interest in our religion because of some pop culture reference.
Loki wives. Not historical. Neo-pagans. Neo-Heathens. None of this is particularly new. So, the Asa-popes discourage the newbies, and the newbies think all Heathens are asshats.
That’s Fine, Except…
That would all be well and good, except Heathens are pretty much a drop in the overall pagan pool. We don’t have the numbers to turn anyone legitimately seeking knowledge away. (Except the neo Nazis, whom we really don’t want.) Heathenry and all its forms (with the exception of the white supremacists) might equal 250,000 in the world. If that.
The Good Old Days of Heathenry
Back in the good old days when Heathenry flourished and people were lucky to live to 50 years old, there weren’t any Asa-popes telling people what to believe. Sure, there were gythias and gothis, but they weren’t connected by some universal Church. Some gods and goddesses were worshiped over others; some stories were told in some parts that weren’t told in others. When the Vikings went to new lands, they’d add gods and goddesses from those pantheons. Or maybe they figured that the names of those gods matched the Heathen gods. We have some artifacts that show the Christian god being worshiped alongside Thor for a time.
My point is that people back then didn’t have a single view of the gods. Like now, they chose their own traditions and their own gods to believe in. The concept of organized religion occurred with the growth of cities and with priesthoods looking to grab power and keep themselves within the power structure. Sure, you had shamans and whatnot doing the power thing if you were in a tribe, but I suspect most Heathens revered ancestors and tutelary spirits, with an occasional major god or goddess thrown in for good measure.
So, How Does This Work for Today?
Heathens weren’t a particular picky bunch when it came to revering gods and goddesses. How you came to what kind of gods you worshiped was probably your own business and really not worried about, as long as you weren’t a dickhead about it. You were pretty much considered a Heathen if you believed in the Heathen gods–as far as we know, you didn’t get singled out because you believed that Thor was better than Odin, or you worshiped Perun or Frau Holle. Hel, our ancestors probably gave you a pass if you revered Loki as long as you were part of the kindred. When you started identifying with Christian ideals that were aimed at destroying Heathenism, that’s when they got a bit tetchy about it.
So, when I look at where new Heathens are coming from, I shrug and think that they have to come from somewhere. If not from pop culture, then where? See, I think a lot of Heathens, especially recons, don’t give our gods enough credit. Who is to say that Bragi didn’t inspire the original writers at Marvel to dip into Nordic mythology and bring Thor to life on comic book pages? Who says that Odin couldn’t have given the mead of poetry to the writer of Vikings? And who can say that the interest in our gods in pop culture isn’t fueled by the gods, themselves?
But It’s Not Right!
At this point, I can hear the recons screaming: It’s NOT right! The stories are screwed up! You know, you’re right. The stories aren’t the legend and myths, and they don’t portray the gods exactly according to our beliefs. Doesn’t matter. They have piqued an interest in our gods and the Heathen ways that cannot be denied. Sure, some will become interested in the context of the movies, the shows, or the graphic novels and that’s all. Some may blend the pop culture and the legends together. But some will dig deeper and explore what it is like to be Heathen. Those are the ones we need to foster.
What About Pop Culture Heathens?
So, what should we do about pop culture Heathens? Nothing. Let them have their fun. Do you actually think that all Heathens were serious followers of our gods? If they were, then why was it so damn easy for Christianity to take hold? Christianity took hold because the powers that be declared it their religion. The masses joined up because that’s what kept them in good graces.
So, that’s my take on the neo-Heathens from pop culture. As usual, your mileage may vary.
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