Now that I’ve talked about five reasons for not becoming Heathen, the flip side is what are good reasons for becoming a Heathen. Naturally, there are people who may disagree with me, but I think there are good reasons for becoming a Heathen. Let’s get started… [READ THIS AND ALL PREMIUM POSTS FOR JUST $1. SUBSCRIBE NOW!]
A Facebook friend and a well-known Heathen has announced that he may convert to Catholicism, or is at least considering it. While I can’t speak for his motivations, as a former Catholic, I can understand the appeal that the Church has for people, especially Heathens. At the same time, I can understand why Heathenry and paganism woo away Catholic followers. At some point, every Heathen must ask themselves if they’re in the right religion and whether they fit in. Although I have my reservations about Catholicism, I wish him well and I hope he finds what he seeks.
Anyway, that got me to thinking about those who are thinking of becoming Heathens. There are plenty of reasons for becoming a Heathen, but there are also many reasons for not choosing this religion as well. It’s not for everyone, nor does it try to be. Unlike Catholicism and other Judaeo-Christian religions, it does not purport itself to be the only religion whereby one can attain “salvation” and the others are going to eternal damnation.
I wonder sometimes what draws people to Heathenism. Heathenism isn’t for the Marvel fanboys or fangirls who fallen in love with the Thor movies or comics (or the actors therein) and expect the gods to behave like that. (Although there are Marvel fans among Heathens.) It isn’t for the white supremacists, though we seem to have our share of them. It isn’t for the people who are looking for a god or goddess who will come to their rescue the first sign of trouble. It isn’t for the person who wants to create spells and potions regularly. While we do have our share of “magic” — and I have a tough time labeling it as such — we’re not the put together a love potion or money incantation type of religion. It isn’t for the people who are looking for the all-knowing, all-powerful god of the Judaeo-Christian religions. It’s not a place to insist on whites only, or Northern ethnicities only, or require that what and where you were born makes a difference as to what religion you should follow. It is not a place for Nazis.
At the same time, it’s not for the people who want an excuse to drink and party. (Although drinking and partying is certainly an aspect of our religion.) It’s not SCA or a reason simply to reenact reconstructed rituals without belief, although there are plenty of recons and other Heathens who believe and don’t believe.
Lastly, It’s not a place to bully other people who have differing viewpoints. I add this sincerely because even if you disagree with my above statements, that is your right to disagree. I’ll caveat my statements to exclude the white supremacist and Nazi bullshit. Since white supremacists and Nazis are inherently bullies, we have no room for them.
So, Who is Heathenism For?
I’ve talked a lot about who isn’t suited for Heathenism, but perhaps I should talk more about who is suited for Heathenism. It’s surprising flexible, allowing for many different folks with different ideas.
Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and Wights
Heathenism is for those who hold reverence for the ancient gods and goddesses of the northern religions. Heathenism is for those who wish to revere their ancestors. Heathenism is for those who believe in wights, elves, and trolls. It is for those who hope to gain understanding of the past by learning all they can about those who were Heathen before us.
Heathens can be agnostic or even atheistic when it comes to supernatural entities, may believe in them fully, or maybe choose somewhere in between. They may look upon the gods as actual beings or as metaphors. Heathens may have a personal relationship with the gods or a god, or may never have had a single contact. Heathenry is often flexible because there is no Asa-pope to make pronouncements. Although we have the seidr and runecasting, so-called “magic” is extremely limited. A more magical form of paganism is Wicca.
Heathens aren’t looking for the gods to solve all their problems. Rather, they look to the gods for moral strength and aid. When the gods help them out, they are grateful. They will offer gifts in exchange for help. Unlike the Christian god, the Heathen gods expect you to handle your own problems without running to them all the time. While there are no Ten Commandments of Heathenism, we do have the Nine Noble Virtues, the Havamal, and rules against oathbreaking. We expect other Heathens to act honorably.
For the Community and Individuals
Heathenism is for individuals and community. In the past, community was important because without it, an individual could not exist. Today with all our technology and the scarceness of Heathens, most Heathens are solitary practitioners. Despite this, there are some Heathens, most notably recons, who insist that you cannot be a solitary practitioner. I would argue that I and the majority of Heathens out there have proved otherwise. Most of us still rely on society and others — few of us are capable of living without any outside help — but the lack of Heathens, or those we wish to associate with, are few in number. That’s why like many things, Heathenry has changed. It must change, because we have changed. Just as we don’t condone human sacrifice (except those few loony-tune, fringe idiots who do condone it), we don’t have to be a group-or-nothing religion.
Heathenry Celebrates the Seasons and the Past
Heathenry is close to nature and celebrates times such as spring, planting, harvest, and the equinoxes.
We celebrate our ancestors who have gone before us, and the land spirits who guard our lands. We have many holidays and days of remembrance for those who have gone before us and for those gods and wights who are helping us.
Heathens know that the gods and goddesses consider humans as one species and do not look at “race” as a means of determining who is worthy. There have been Heathens of other ethnicities who have joined Northerners as Vikings. We have historical records and even genetics to prove that.
I hope I’ve given you a picture of who Heathenry is for. It is for anyone who is looking for a religion that embraces these principles. If this sounds like a religion you would follow, certainly, Heathenry is for you.
Well, last week was fun, because I irked a bunch of people with my opinion on frith and troth. I suspect this week, I’ll irk a bunch of people who have laid claim to the word “heathen.” So, let me get this out in the open, once and for all:
You do not have the exclusive right to the word “heathen.” In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that you have no right to exclusively claim the word “heathen” anymore than you have the exclusive right to claim the word “pagan.”
There, now I feel better. But for those of you who were curious, I am going to go through the history and etymology of the word, “heathen.”
What Does the Word “Heathen” Mean?
I’m going to irk some folks when I trot out the Oxford English Dictionary. Under the definitions of Heathen, it says:
1.1 A follower of a polytheistic religion; a pagan.
1.2 (the heathen) Heathen people collectively, especially (in biblical use) those who did not worship the God of Israel.
1.3 informal An unenlightened person; a person regarded as lacking culture or moral principles.
Well, that says a lot. We can assume those who follow the Northern gods, such as myself, can be considered a heathen because of definition 1, and especially, 1.1 and 1.2. For those who dislike my posts and tell me to change my blog’s title, the definition in 1.3 may indeed apply to me, and therefore, I can most definitely be considered a heathen by that definition. (As an FYI, there is no definition 2.)
If you look up other dictionary definitions, you’re likely to come across synonyms: pagan, infidel, idolater, heretic, unbeliever, disbeliever, nonbeliever, atheist, agnostic, skeptic; archaicpaynim
Let’s look a little deeper into the etymology.
Etymology (not Entomology) of Heathen…OR “It’s a Bug Hunt”
Whenever I think of etymology, I always think of the movie, Aliens, because “etymology” sounds remarkably close to “entomology.” Hence, “It’s a bug hunt.” Seeing as it is not, I’ve gone over to Dictionary.com and pulled up “paynim,” which is the root of “heathen.”
Origin of paynim:
200-50; Middle English: pagan (noun and adj.), pagan countries, heathendom < Old French pai (e) nime < Late Latin pāgānismus paganism
“But Tyra,” you say, “that isn’t where heathen comes from.” I kind of agree with you on that. The Oxford English dictionary cites:
Old English hǣthen, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch heiden and German Heide; generally regarded as a specifically Christian use of a Germanic adjective meaning ‘inhabiting open country’, from the base of heath.
Okay, so now we’re somewhere. And we can agree that it comes from Anglo-Saxon, which means “inhabiting open country.”
The Definition of Heathen
A heathen, by definition is either a pagan who does not worship the Abrahamic religions (or a major religion) or a person who inhabits open country. Wow! Isn’t that simple? There isn’t a single mention of Odin, frith, troth, or reconstruction anywhere in those definitions! (One might assume that if you follow Odin and the Aesir, you are most definitely a heathen.) It isn’t a particularly discriminating term, either, when it comes to the pagan gods.
The word, “heathen” seems to be all encompassing when it comes to pagans. And guess what? By the agreed upon dictionary definition, heathen encompasses Wiccans, pagans, and other folk who do not follow the Northern gods. It does, by definition, encompass those who worship Jotun, Loki, Native American gods, African gods, Shinto, Hindu, Asian polytheistic religions, Atheists, and even some people who worship snakes in their bathtub. You might argue that the bigger world religions such as Hindu, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, and other religions that have huge followings are not heathen, and you might be right, but only because they are widely held religions. I might argue with you that they are part of the “heathen” group because they are not of the Abrahamic religions.
So, if “heathen” is not a definitive term for someone who follows the northern pantheons, what is
Asatru? Well, Asatru is really a religion, and is defined by the Oxford dictionary as:
1920s. From Icelandic ásatrú from Old Icelandic ása, genitive plural of áss god + trú belief, perhaps after Norwegian asatro early Scandinavian pagan religion.
So, What Does All This Mean?
“Heathen” is such a general term that it’s hard to pin it down to one particular group or custom. I tend to use the term “heathen” to mean anyone who follows or worships gods in the northern pantheon. I don’t get my panties in a wad if someone uses it differently than I do. I expect there are going to be different usages of the word.
That being said, I will include you in the term “heathen” if you follow the northern pantheon and aren’t a racist or Nazi sympathizer. Hel, I’ll even accept the recons in that definition. You don’t need a secret handshake, a Mjolnir necklace, a drinking horn, or horns on your helmet (in fact, horns on your helmet will get you tossed out — fair warning!) And that, my friends, is what a heathen is.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how heathens get treated by dominant religions. In the past, there were plenty of persecutions — in some countries today, most notably Islamic, you’re likely to be persecuted if you’re not part of their religion. In true theocracies, our beliefs make our lives difficult. This is why I believe it is important to put things in perspective. If you’re a heathen like I am, where you live in a Western republic where religion is tolerated, but you don’t necessarily have the support structure to make you feel inclusive in your beliefs, it’s important to keep some perspective. Five hundred years ago, you’d be dead, and not in a pleasant way.
Dealing with REAL Theocracies
If you’ve lived your entire life in the United States, it’s easy to get riled up about how people react toward you having beliefs that don’t fit the Christian paradigm. Although one of the big principles our country was founded on was the separation of church and state, we still have to acknowledge that Christianity is the big influence in our lives. Even though we have a number of whack-jobs who insist that we should have prayer in school, creationism taught alongside evolution, and other stupid things, we haven’t the same situation that people who live in real theocracies endure.
I knew an Iranian Jew who supported the Shaw of Iran before the Ayatollah took over. He and his family had to flee for their lives. Think about it. Christians and Jews are constantly persecuted by Islamic extremists, which makes dealing with your neighbor giving you the stink eye because of your hammer pendant laughable. Okay, so you got some disapproval there. At least you don’t have to worry about the religion police breaking down your door and arresting you.
Worse for Atheists
It can even be worse, if you’re atheist. Stumbling across Life as an Atheist in an Islamic Republic is a real eye-opener. Even if you live in what may be considered a more enlightened Islamic country, you can undergo some pretty nasty abuse — and no one will say anything bad about it because you are considered wrong. Yes, yes, we hear stories of how people treat those who don’t believe in Christ in the South, but unless you get in peoples’ faces, it’s unlikely you’ll be physically abused.
Americans Don’t Like to Talk About Religion
At this point, you may be shaking your head on this, but these numbers seem to play out from my own experience: Americans don’t like to talk about religion. In fact, according to an interesting post by Atheist Republic, the Pew Research Center (which does a lot of polls) discovered that half of American adults seldom talk about religion to those outside their families. Those who do like to talk about religion are usually the ultra-religious (Oh, THERE’S a surprise — yes, that was sarcasm.) But what you might not know is that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent actually want to hear about your religion, and agree to disagree.
It Could Be Worse
For all our bitching about Christianity, and how we’ve been treated in the past, at the present, Americans have far fewer problems than we could have. Certainly there are other religions in this country that have it tougher. Namely Judaism and moderate Islamism. If the worse behavior you’ve receive has been weird looks and stink eyes, count yourself lucky. There are far worse bullying behaviors you could experience. If you’ve been suckered into having dinner at a friend’s place and they tried to convert you, well, you know where that person stands and perhaps you need better friends. Now, if you’re locked up against your will, beaten, and made to recite bible passages, then you have something. If you’ve escaped, you had better have reported it to the police. Being locked up and beaten is more than just a little on the illegal side.
Yeah, I’m not saying this country is without faults. We’ve had the Salem Witch Trials, Mountain Meadows Massacre, and extermination of Native Americans under the name of the Christian god for their lands. There have been hate crimes against different faiths. One that springs to mind is hate crimes against Jewish people, but even Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Mormons, and other Christian faiths have experienced intolerance. For a country founded on the separation of church and state, we’ve seen our share of bad behavior.
The problem isn’t usually the majority, although incidents such as 9/11 and other terrorist acts tend to heighten mistrust, and yes, people behave badly because we know that these terror groups have ties to Islam, albeit radical Islam. It’s common for those of us to look at those “not of our tribe” with suspicion. It doesn’t make the prejudice right.
Heathenism can be practiced alone, or in a group. That’s the beauty of it. I’m kind of a solitary kind of gal, so you’re not likely to see me at an Asatru or Heathen gathering. Even so, there are groups in your neighborhood. I recommend the American Asatru Association to get more involved. That way, you don’t have to go it alone.
I had a nice chat with a young man who has felt the pull of heathenry. He’s an interesting person who isn’t of the traditional northern ethnicity and some things I said on this blog he felt that he could relate to. I heard this from another reader, which suggests maybe the gods are looking for some folks with a little more brains–who are willing to question things and apply logic and deductive reasoning to it as well.
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Welcome to The Rational Heathen!
First post for this blog, so I think I better at least have an introduction and some sort of explanation as to what this blog is about. I’ve been meaning to create a blog about my journey into heathenism and Asatruism, but for a long time, I wasn’t sure what to call it.
Some Background About Me
My name isn’t really important, but you can call me Tyra Ulfdottir, if you’re so inclined. My religious experience started as a Roman Catholic Christian through my family. I soon became disenchanted with it after reaching adulthood, although I had inklings that Christianity wasn’t for me. For a long time I was unaffiliated, then agnostic, and then dabbled in atheism. But the gods — and one particular god — wasn’t happy with that, and due to some pretty powerful UPGs (unverified personal gnosis), I was dragged into heathenism. As a friend said “they like a challenge.” So, they did.
My background is in engineering and science. Basically if it makes no sense logically, I get really annoyed and reject it. I have a really hard time believing in magic, but there may be some equally weird reasons for what we might call magic. Since heathenism does not fly in the face of science, it actually is a nice mix.
Why The Rational Heathen?
I supposed it’s pretentious as Hel calling this site The Rational Heathen. It suggests that I am the lone voice calling out in the wilderness of irrationality, and while that may be true, I have to admit I’m not the only one who thinks logically about things. There are Asatruar who are actually atheists but they like having a foundation in their culture. I am no longer Atheist, so even though I do hold a healthy skepticism about religions, I believe what I believe. You don’t have to agree with me. Hel, you can just take this as the rantings of a mad person. That’s okay. Really. But even though these are my opinions and my thoughts, I have come to their conclusion through logic and reason. Or, at least I like to think that.
Let’s Get One Thing Straight…
Before I go any further, understand that I am totally against racism and bigotry. I believe that the gods accept anyone and that humans are all one race. That’s right. I believe what science has shown: we’re all related and we are not different races. Don’t like that concept? Get over it. Go somewhere else. Don’t hang out here. If you’re using the Norse gods to affirm your bigotry, then you have the wrong beliefs.
So, sit back and be prepared to go on an interesting ride. I probably won’t come up with anything earth shattering, but at least I’ll have an interesting time talking about it.