Apparently, I struck a chord with some of my readers when talking about soft polytheism versus hard polytheism. I assumed many of my readers were soft polytheistic, that is, looking at the gods as archetypes and forces of nature, and not necessarily physical beings. Apparently, I was wrong. Many of my readers do indeed look at the gods as physical beings.
Some Caveats About Beliefs
Before I get into the whole soft polytheism versus hard polytheism arguments, I need to reiterate my beliefs here. As I’ve said previously, I tend toward a soft polytheistic belief of archetypes. However, given that I have dealt with the gods directly, I believe that the gods can take human-like forms. (They are, after all, gods.) I also believe that our gods go by many names and manifestations, but they are the same gods. At least, in this Universe.
How Far Down the Rabbit Hole Do You Want to Go?
Having said that, I don’t necessarily have an issue with your beliefs if you want to go the hard pagan route. It’s just I know that proving the stories we tell in the face of science gets to be difficult at best. Unless you really believe that our world hangs off of a physical tree and humans were carved from wood, I don’t think you and I will have much to argue about. If you want to go down that rabbit hole and believe everything in our stories is 100 percent true, despite science proving it isn’t, I suggest you go in your corner and maybe find some Christian fundamentalist friends to argue with. What you believe isn’t logical and I won’t be able to convince you to the contrary.
If you’re a hard polytheist in the strictest sense, you tend to accept our stories at face value. That the Moon and the Sun move across our sky, rather than the Earth revolving around the Sun and the Moon revolving around the Earth. That there really was a cow that licked the brine from Ymir and the gods, thus creating the first pantheons. That Odin along with his brothers slew Ymir and fashioned our Earth from Ymir’s bones. This is more fundamentalist than anything, and again, since you really believe that, nothing I’m going to tell you is going to make a difference.
I would bet, however, that most hard polytheistic Heathens are a mix of this hard polytheism and soft polytheism. You like the creation tales, but you at least accept the current explanation of how the Universe came into being. Maybe you’ve resolved that in your minds, and maybe you haven’t. Maybe you just don’t know what to believe.
Blending Myth and Fact
Now, if you believe our gods manifest themselves in physical forms, that’s fine. I’m good with that. I believe that they can and do, but I also don’t believe that Asgard exists in our dimension. I tend to accept string theory as well, which if our gods exist in physical forms, they possibly occupy more than the three dimensions we live in. In this case, we may have a tough time seeing them. It could just be that our wights may also inhabit those dimensions, affecting our existence without necessarily seeing them in their full forms.
With the exception of some clueless wankers, most people believe the Earth is round, that it revolves around the Sun, and that stars are simply other suns, some very much like our own sun. Our sun is a relatively ordinary star, too, with the exception that it is the only solar system we know of that has life. That may change because not only are there are trillions of stars, but there are galaxies with trillions of stars in them. The Earth formed some 4.54 billion years ago and not 6000 years like the new Earth creationists would have you believe. I’m pretty sure that the formation of Earth wasn’t from a frost giant named Ymir, unless you’re willing to believe that Ymir’s bones were some primordial matter that came from the death of another star. Given that our star is a second or even third generation star, we can look at the stories and deduce that maybe our creation stories are one big metaphor. Or maybe they’re just a way for people to explain how things came into being.
Whence Our Religion Came
Heathenry is a product of our ancestors combined with communication with our gods and curiosity about our world. It came from a more ancient religion that our Proto-Indo-European ancestors worshiped. Those ancestors’ predecessors practiced a form of animism. The interesting question is when our gods revealed themselves to our ancestors.
I would argue that given the overall similarities of certain religions, we have to assume a Jungian collective unconscious was passed down throughout history. No matter how different other ethnicities seem, they have similar stories that run throughout their folklore. To a certain degree, one could argue that it is because our brains are wired the same, and I’m not going to dispute that. But I do suspect that all our ancestors had a shared experience at one time. Think about it. We know that humans nearly went extinct at least twice. Could this be the time when our gods stepped in to help us?
That, of course, is purely speculation on my part. I have no clue if that really did happen, but it does make for some interesting ideas.
But I digress…
Getting Back on Track
Soft polytheism tends to look more at the concepts of the gods as archetypes. In it’s extreme form, it’s closer to atheism than a religion. I would not consider most soft polytheists in that group. Many are pantheists, which allows the worship of other gods, and it equates the universe with the gods. I sit more comfortably in the pantheistic version of Heathenry, because I believe that the universe and the gods are the same. My belief is our gods go by other names in other religions. I chose our gods not only because I am most comfortable with them, but because I have had interactions with them by those names.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Let me know your beliefs in the comments.
I was reading the pagan forums on Patheos the other day and I thought about how Heathens are underrepresented there when it comes to pagans. And then I started thinking about how much of paganism is really geared toward the Wicca crowd and maybe the Celtic crowd, if they’re lucky. So, I started thinking about why Heathens (to paraphrase what Rodney Dangerfield used to say) don’t get no respect. To this end, I’ve come up with five reasons why Heathenry isn’t represented in paganism more often, but I bet you can come up with more, if you put your mind to it.
Problem 1: We’re Tiny, Relatively Speaking
If you want to talk about a religion that has few numbers, Heathenism and Asatru are pretty small as a world religion. Sure, there are a few census that suggest we have maybe 100,000 to 200,000 Heathens in the world, but seriously, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Consider the 800 pound gorilla in the midst (pun intended) of Wicca. Wiccans may make up about 2 million in the United States alone, and who knows how many in the world? It’s easy to see just by that number why Heathenry is a footnote when it comes to paganism.
Problem 2: Association with Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and Folkish Organizations
Many Heathens aren’t racist, folkish, or white supremacist. But not all of them. One only has to take a look at the Neo-Nazis and the Odinists who support a whites-only mentality. Other groups such as the AFA have excluded other ethnicities and the LGBT communities within their Heathen form of paganism. Even though a number of very good Heathens and leaders within the Heathen community have denounced this behavior, we see time and time again Internet and news stories featuring Heathens as bigoted, racist, and anti-LGBT.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Just because you don’t count those folk as “true Heathens” doesn’t mean that the rest of the world shares your opinions. You can say “not my kindred” all you want, but the reality is the rest of the world is judging you. Plain and simple. If you don’t denounce them, everyone is going to take your silence as tacit agreement.
Heathenry isn’t for bigots. Even our gods didn’t stay within their own kind when it came to their kindred. Our gods took in Jotunn, Vanir, Light Elves, and humans. Many gods had Jotunn, Vanir, and Light Elf consorts and lovers. Hel, even Loki mated with a horse.
Problem 3: Our Magic is Minimal
When Thor and Tyr called me to Heathenry, I was relieved to find out that magic played a minimal role in the religion. That being said, a lot of people are more attracted to magic than I am, which is presumably why people are more attracted to Wicca than Heathenry. Oh sure, we have the runes and Seidr, but what else? Maybe skinriding? We don’t usually do magic in the form of spells or enchantments.
Our magic is through our gods, ancestors, and wights. (The fact that I’ve never seen a wight is irrelevant.) Many Heathens believe in the gifting cycle with gods and wights to obtain what they want. Some use Seidr, runes, or other forms of Norse magic. Others will blend in forms of magic from Wicca. Reconstructionists and others derisively call those who add more magic from other religions “Wiccatru.” More on that later.
So, people who are looking for magic tend to bypass Heathenry and go for something like Wicca that enables them to worship our gods while still adding magic spells. Hmm.
Problem 4: We’re a Stuck Up, Exclusive Lot
When a person first looks into Heathenry, they’re often met with people who are quick to deride and denounce that person if they don’t immediately join the recon trolls. In fact, you’ll find a bunch of misogynists and Asa-popes telling people how to practice Heathenry. When the person balks (as they rightfully should), the trolls start calling them Marvel fanboys (or fangirls), Wicctrus, or Lokeans (never mind that being a Lokean is a choice and not an insult). So, a lot of people with less commitment are going to leave and go elsewhere.
It stunned me when Tyr and Thor contacted me. But I knew what I had experienced and even when I entered the ugly world of the Internet recon trolls, I knew I was right to stay and deal with them. You see, the gods contacted me and (presumably) not the Internet trolls, so the trolls didn’t deter me. I just had to figure out a softer landing spot, which I eventually did. And I started writing The Rational Heathen just to put down my thoughts and feelings, not to mention some of my experiences. Apparently it resonated with some of you because you’re still here with me.
Problem 5: We Don’t Agree on Much and UPG is often an Ugly Word
A big problem in Heathenry is the overall ambiguity of our beliefs. We really don’t have a lot of stories to go on — not like the stories we have from the Romans and Greeks about their gods and goddesses. Islamic and Roman historians as well as Christianized northern peoples who lived two hundred years later wrote down all of our stories. We only have one depiction — and a Christian one — of the Irminsul. We have tales which refer to other stories which were never written down.
So, in light of the lack of evidence, there’s a lot of conjecture. And with conjecture is also Unverified Personal Gnosis or UPG which many people don’t take into account. Some Heathens are outright hostile to UPG as well. So, there is no consensus on what is correct and what isn’t, except among the different factions between themselves. That division and the accompanying hostility turns people away quickly.
So, there you have it: the five reasons why Heathens don’t get no respect. Do you have some thoughts about why Heathens don’t get no respect? I’d love to hear it in the comments.
Ah, the Heathen life. The Rational Heathen has goats, which means spring kids, and the insanity that brings. If they all had lived, I would’ve had ten Kids on the Block. Yeah, bad pun, deal with it. Right now, I’m down to seven and as bad as having a 30 percent attrition rate is, it beats out the really bad year when I lost all the kids due to various aliments.
I Hate Spring, and Here’s Why
Here in the Northern Rockies, the weather is typical spring. In other words, the weather sucks to pull goat babies out of the butts of pregnant doe goats. Temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night and the days can soar as high as 40 or 50 degrees. And it alternately rains and snows. And melts. And makes everything muddy. And I mean everything. It sucks, especially for newborn goats who really have no defense against the weather. So, even though it is Freyr’s season, it is a real pain in the ass for someone like me who has livestock. I’ve been spending most of my time awake and going down to the barn every two to four hours to check on the does. So, it means long nights.
Around here it’s been guess and by golly when they actually were bred. That’s my own fault because I got a new goat buck who was just a kid. So, I left him with the does so I could be sure they would be bred. All this winter, I watched the does balloon with babies and waited. One of my best goats had twins, only to have them succumb to pneumonia. Then, the kid train started. I had four does deliver in two days. Eight kids total.
One didn’t survive despite my ministrations. It happens, but I take it personally every time. No idea what killed him. If we had decent goat vets out here, I’d consider a necropsy, but the last necropsy told me that I had a healthy, dead kid. True story, that.
It’s Not Easy
Right now, I have seven kids with a couple being somewhat sketchy because they had bacteria infections. I’m treating them will all the medication I can muster. Kids born during mud season are just about guaranteed to have some illness. What’s more, I have one who is a quarter of the size of the others and who has a birth defect that a kid last year had. Same mom.
The mom doe goat in question is about as disappointing as they come. Her first kid was born with two long back legs and died within a day. The second kid from last season had a fused toe joint that curled the hoof under the leg that made him very lame. He survived only to die of bloat. The little doeling is a runt and has one leg where the toe joint has somewhat curled and is twisted a bit. Two different unrelated bucks; same doe. To make matters worse, I can’t milk that doe because she is wild in temperament despite the handling, and she drinks off herself. She also drinks off her mom.
So today, we slaughtered the doe goat and butchered her for meat. Not what I would prefer, but either you make it in my herd or you don’t. I can’t afford another pet goat, especially one with a bad temperament. Her kids, if they survive, won’t be bred. Since their father was a cashmere buck, I’ll be keeping them for fiber (wool).
Spring and the Heathen
Despite my obvious dislike for the season, Heathens in the past looked forward to spring. Sure, it meant lambing, kidding, calving, and planting seeds, but what it really meant was the onslaught of winter was finally over. I suspect that many people and livestock went into survival mode in the wintertime. Even with winter grazing, livestock couldn’t really forage for food as they could in the spring and summer, so either had to be sold, slaughtered, or had to be fed. This meant that you could only keep the animals you could afford to feed or the land could support. This also meant you had to keep your breeding stock and hope that the critters made it through the winter.
Spring was the return of life, and therefore the return of food for our ancestors’ livestock. New kids, calves, and lambs meant an abundance of food for the next winter, if they survived the harsh realities of an early spring. Livestock was typically smaller than modern day’s version, so they didn’t need near as much to eat as their modern counterparts, but they didn’t produce as much either. I suspect the goats from the past were hardier than those we have today. Those who didn’t survive didn’t pass on their genetic code.
Kids and the Modern Heathen
As a modern Heathen, I am slightly more self sufficient than city dwellers, living a semi-subsistence lifestyle. But even I must use modern technology to keep my animals alive during this topsy-turvey time of spring, here in a land with unpredictable weather. We get warm and cold spells, rain and snow, and of course, wind that threatens any young creature’s life. I look at the deer around the house and am amazed that they live as long as they do with the same weather, predators, and diseases we must endure. It is a true testament to life that despite adversity, wildlife thrives.
I have three crates full of kids that need to be hand raised. I have five goats who need to be milked. I’ll get about two gallons of milk a day — enough to feed the little ones with some addition of cow juice. I’ll also bring hay up to get them started.
A Lesson I’ve Learned
If there is a lesson to be learned by this, it is that our ancestors had hard lives. They didn’t have the antibiotics and other medicines I have available. They probably sweated over their livestock as much as I do, or even more, because they couldn’t just go to the store and buy a package of hamburger if it didn’t work out. Each dead kid, each failed milker, and each failed crop put them one step closer to starvation.
It gives you an idea how far we’ve gone as a species. Even our poorest people in first world countries fare better than that. There are enough food pantries in my area that can prevent hunger for those who do not qualify for food stamps or SNAP benefits. The Heathen then relied on their family and kindred to prevent starvation, but it could be a closely run thing. So, even though I pay homage to the ancestors, quite frankly, I’ve had enough of a taste of their lifestyle to know that it’s harder than it appears. At least I’m unlikely to starve if I lose any more kids.
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!]
The Article and Why the Numbers Might Be Important
If anything, the article reaffirmed my belief in the big tent model when it comes to Heathenism. If the numbers are correct (and I suspect they might be), we need to treat our pagan brethren with a little more respect. The tl;dr version is that Wicca may have, by low estimates, around 2 million practitioners in the United States, making it the third largest religion in the US, after Judaism. (Atheists and agnostics make up a larger percentage than Judaism, but since they are not a religion, they aren’t factored in.) Now granted, when compared to more that 300 million people, that may not seem like many, but the reality is that 2 million votes can sway an election quite handily. Which brings us to Heathenism.
Heathenism by the Numbers
I’ve seen likes on various Heathen groups on the web, and have seen numbers in the 60K to 100K. That to me seems more likely with a guessimation of maybe 150K to 200K total Heathens in the world at the top end, when you count crossovers from Wiccans and goosestepping moron Odinist Nazis.
Why We Need to Ally Ourselves with the Wiccans, or My Big Tent Belief
So, for argument sake, let’s say we have about 100K to 200K Heathens worldwide. Personally, I think it is around 100,000, but let’s go with that bigger number, for argument sake. That means that we maybe have a tenth of the numbers Wiccans have, if Wiccans have a conservative 2 million in the United States alone. And our numbers are worldwide, not the United States, alone. So, we have 2 million people who could easily be on our side because they’re polytheistic. Granted, they worship all sorts of gods and goddesses, but the reality is that they could strengthen Heathenism if we let them.
I’ve proposed this big tent belief in an earlier post which has met with some derision from the recon segment. Wiccans are not our enemies here. In fact, you’re likely to find allies from Wiccans who worship Freyja and Freyr, or any of our other gods and goddesses. We can find more Heathens there who will help us politically when it comes to issues we have. Plus, if we’re inclusive, we have a lot more Heathens who can help shape Heathenry.
To Those Who Want to Exclude Wiccans
Why? you may ask.
Do you really want Heathenry to stay small? Do you really want it to be taken over by racists? Do you really think it’s a good idea to stay exclusive and not inclusive? Look at the Wiccans. They really don’t have a lot of dogma, and thus have big numbers. Maybe Heathenry could learn something from Wiccans. And Hels bells, I don’t even believe in magic.
Oh, boy howdy. I know I’m going to get flack for this post, but the question has been brewing in my mind for some time. Every time I see stylized depictions of the Irminsul, I feel uncomfortable. Not because of the original meaning of the Irminsul, but what it has grown to represent due to the blatant misappropriation by the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists.
So, before I get into the reasoning behind my question — and with all honesty, I do not have an answer to the question — let’s get into the history behind the Irminsul and why it is important to heathen beliefs.
Where the Irminsul Comes from
The Irminsul or Ermensul comes straight from the Saxons. Arguably it’s named after Irmin, a
presumably main Saxon god who is linked either with Tyr or Odin, according to early 20th century historians.This is a largely reconstructed god and may or may not have existed. Many later scholars do not think there was such a god, instead thinking that the Irminsul was more likely a representation of Yggdrasil or the World Tree.
Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried mentions the destruction of the Irminsul in this post, and also notes that the author who writes about it wrote the account 88 years after the fact. He furthermore adds:
“The Saxon Poet writes that the Irminsul “was fashioned in the form of a huge column and contained a corresponding wealth of adornment,” but his account was written nearly 120 years after the destruction of the site. Such later sources must be treated with caution; sources contemporary with the Saxon war do not clarify whether the Irminsul was a carved column or a natural tree.”
So, not only do we have a questionable god, but also we don’t know if the Irminsul was a post or a tree. And while it had a huge temple surrounding it, we really don’t have any archaeological evidence determining what it was. While we do have one possible image of it, it is a Christian depiction and not pagan art. This piece of art appeared somewhere between the 9th and 12th centuries, most likely by an artist who had never seen an Irminsul.
The Axis Mundi, or Pillar of the World
The Irminsul, and Yggdrasil, for that matter, is a form of the axis mundi, or the pillar of the world. The concept appears time and again throughout most religions. The axis mundi is the link between the heavens and the earth, forming a bridge like the bifrost from the mundane to the supernatural. Too many religions to name have this conduit, and the Irminsul appears to be a representation of the conduit. I agree with later historians, (rightly or wrongly), that it was the Saxons’ form of the World Tree.
Corruption by the Nazis
It didn’t take long for the Nazis to point to Irminism and Wotanism as their own religions due to the evolution of Heathenry in northern Europe. A great deal of emphasis was placed on the site of Externsteine where, I kid you not, a psychic Nazi archaeologist, claimed there was an Irminsul, even though there is no physical proof of one. Look up Karl Maria Wiligut sometime. This guy created the SS logo and was a spiritual counselor for Himmler. Fun times.
The sign of the Irminsul and the meaning had been adopted by men such as Heinrich Himmler, who was big into the occult. During these dark days, heathens saw their images such as teiwaz, othala, algiz, and sowelu become part of the Nazi symbols. The Irminsul was offered as an alternative to the Christian cross.
Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist Symbols
If you check out the JDL’s hate symbol database, you’ll be dismayed to find images such as othala, teiwaz, and other heathen runes to be part of the neo-Nazi symbols. You also may see something that looks like a skinhead crucified on a teiwaz rune.
Oddly enough, it looks like an Irminsul. And I suspect it’s intentional, as is the crucified skinhead looking like a mockery of the White Christ. Although I have no love for Christianity, the blending of the two images from two different beliefs, combined with the overall hate message has left me uneasy. (Yes, I know Odin hung himself on the World Tree for nine days, but that was upside down. I really think this is a Heathen and Christian blending in a perverse way.) This combined with the obvious Nazi history of the Irminsul has corrupted it to the point where I’m not certain we can ever win it back without the soiled context. Look at the swastika and tell me that it is free from the Nazi taint, even though it was an ancient rune and symbol. It’s foolish to think otherwise.
If you don’t think it is still considered by the Nazis as part of the symbolism, I’ll point to the recent vandalism at Externsteine by the neo-Nazis. They consider it part of their beliefs in a big way.
So, Where Does that Leave Us with the Irminsul?
So, where does that leave us with the Irminsul? With all honesty, I haven’t a fucking clue. It’s the World Tree, the axis mundi, and a symbol of the Saxons. But do we use the stylized Christian depiction, or go with something else? Do we even bother with the term Irminsul and call it the World Tree? Given the shaky ground we’re already on historically, do we even bother with it? Or do we take it back somehow? Maybe others will have a better idea which way to go with it, I sure don’t.
My own instinct is to let it die and stick with the World Tree. It may not be the best solution, but it is one I am more comfortable with. Either that or come up with a better depiction of the Irminsul which may be more historically accurate, and less, well…, Nazi.
If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen. For about the cost of a Starbucks’ coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one. There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out. What’s more, you only pay for the posts you get. So, if I don’t produce anything, you don’t owe anything. It’s a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things. Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen’s patron!
New Post Schedule
To ensure my patrons are getting to read this before the rest of the world, I have moved my post publishing schedule to weekly Mondays. My patrons will have exclusive access to the post on the weekends before everyone else. How cool is that?
Before we get started, I must point out that I didn’t mean to insult the Westboro Baptist Church…Oh fuck, who am I kidding? I most certainly did. In a stunt that could only be pulled by people of that kind of caliber, the Asatru Folk Assembly, has determined that straight whites who uphold what I can only consider “traditional” Christian roles are allowed in their group. That means, my friends, that “blacks need not apply” and that LGBTs and other minorities aren’t allowed to join in their goosestepping sessions. Hel’s bells, I don’t fit the submissive, subservient woman, so you can betcha I am most certainly not welcome. But I may try to get in just for a laugh and to spy on them until they kick me out.
Can you imagine me on their boards?
We hates Nazis, precious. We hates it forever!
Tolerance: We’re Not Asking Them to Get Married to a Minority
|Thanks to Huginn’s Heathen Hof for this clip.|
In the words of the AFA states:
“…we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children…”[emphasis mine]
Well, okay then. Whether or not you agree with the LGBT lifestyle, whether you believe gender is a social construct or nature, whether or not you choose to marry a person of the color of your skin, whether you prefer powerful or demur women or men, the reality is that we must live honorably. That means living to a moral code that honors our ancestors and our gods. We are not judged like Christians are with their god, but we ARE judged by our actions. Were they honorable? Did they uphold the heathen codes of conduct?
People are many things in this world. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, Christians, Heathens, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, daughters, sons, soldiers, doctors, dentists, plumbers, scientists, unemployed, teachers, friends, volunteers, firefighters, EMTs…the list goes on and on. But the first thing every person is, is a human being. Judging a person by the color of their skin is a stupid, meaningless exercise since we’re so closely related, we’re basically a bunch of inbred primates. In fact, race is a construct. Judging the person by their sexual orientation is beyond idiotic. If you have cancer, you don’t tell the greatest cancer surgeon that you don’t want him to operate on you because he’s gay. You don’t ask the airlines about the pilots who fly you somewhere if they are your color or if they are straight. You don’t stop depositing money in your bank account because the teller is Muslim. Chances are you don’t even know those facts about those people. You just hope the doctor is good, the pilots will get you where you need to go safely, and the teller inputs the right information. Why is this so hard for some people?
Treat the people with respect that are trying to help you. Treat everyone as the human beings they are and if they prove not worthy of your respect by their actions, you can modify it. It’s that simple.
|Thanks to Xan of HHH for this|
The Dirty Laundry — or Toleration for Goosesteppers
It’s no secret that Heathenry has its share of dirty laundry. Most is in the form of white supremacists and Nazis who think that by worshiping our Northern gods, we automatically cut out other races and minorities. The truth, however, is far from what the goosestepping crowd wants people to believe. The Northern peoples didn’t care about the color of your skin. They were an inclusive group who married into other cultures and fought beside those who considered them allies, regardless of their perceived orientation. In fact, there were “black” Vikings. No, kids, we aren’t pure. Deal with it.
We have plenty of folks in Heathenry who dismiss the white supremacists as not being true heathens, and because they are not part of their kindred they aren’t a problem, but the reality is that if we have one group who tolerates bigoted behavior, it casts a bad light on all of us. You might as well be called a racist or intolerant bigot, yourself. No matter what you think or believe, if the AFA insists that unless you fit their bigoted criteria, you can’t join, you can bet the public and the media are going to color us all in that light.
It’s not enough to say you are against racism, bigotry, and chauvinism. The fact that AFA promotes those “values” is enough to make you look racist, bigoted, and chauvinistic to the rest of the world. Because our religion has such small numbers, we can’t afford to have these people among us.
Our Stories Do Not Support the AFA Stance
My good friends at the American Asatru Association drew up this little statement that brings our
religion into perspective. Throughout our stories, our gods and goddesses prove time and again that they don’t behave anything like what the AFA wants to see in terms of traditional gender roles. Our gods have had interracial relationships, have changed genders, and have crossdressed. If you need to look for goddesses who are not overly feminine, we can point to Skadi and Freyja. Any women who handle weapons are not “traditional.”
The gods have had children with Frost Giants, Humans, and even a horse. I am not saying that I approve of incest and bestiality (I most certainly do not), but we can’t point to our religion and claim that there is a basis for exclusion when it comes to people of other ethnicities and other sexual orientations.
Heathenry Should Be Open to All, Not Just White, Heterosexual Bigots
The reality is that Heathenry should be open to all except bigots, whether they are of a different ethnic background or have ancestry from Northern peoples, whether they are gay or straight, or whether they are crossdressers or dress according to whatever custom society expects. I have often said that we need to keep our doors open to everyone, and to make Heathenry a big tent, whether or not the person is of a different skin color or ethnicity, whether they are LGBT or heterosexual, and whether they have beliefs that shift toward Wiccan and Recon. There are places for these people within Heathenry. Opening our doors to those who are different, but are not Nazis or white supremacists, means that we allow our religion to thrive and grow. Staying in lock step with those who would exclude them makes absolutely no sense.
At this point, I applaud those groups who have taken a stance against bigotry and chauvinism. While I don’t necessarily agree with all their beliefs, I must say that they are awesome groups who are willing to stand up against what is obviously wrong. To the Asatru Folk Assembly, I would say that if you insist on being bigoted and upholding false, and ultimately Christian, beliefs by insisting on being racist, misogynistic, and homophobic, then I denounce you. You are not Heathens, even if you claim to worship our gods.
“Frith” and “Troth.” If you hang around with Heathens and Asatruans, inevitably you hear those words. Those silly, archaic, bizarre words. Every time I see those words, I want to roll my eyes and sigh. Or laugh. Or puke. Or something. It’s not that I disagree with the concepts, per se, I just have a tough time with silly archaics.
And I know at least two “dead” languages.
What the Fuck is Frith and Troth?
First, I need to get the definitions out of the way to ensure the recon rabble will find something to argue or poke fun about. So, let’s look at frith. My understanding is that it is tied to the “inner yard” or Innangarth which makes up the kindred. If you look it up under Wikipedia (and you recons are welcome to fix their definitions, by the way), it points out a state of peace that has to do with relationships. Frith encompasses fealty to lords as well. Basically, it is peace that occurs to those who belong to a certain unit, let’s say “family.” But family is more like The Godfather’s family — extended and has those who must swear loyalty of some variety. When you’re offered sanctuary, that’s frith working. Got it?
Troth is loyalty and truth. If you look up the word in Merriam-Webster’s, you’ll see loyalty or pledged faithfulness. Basically, it’s an archaic term for “truth” or “oath,” depending on its context.
Other than the names and usage instead of modern English, you probably are wondering what is wrong with using them today. Glad you asked that. I’m going to address the whole Innangarth/Utanngarth and the concept of frith (crap, I keep typing “firth” because my mind and fingers rebel against this silly word.) Basically, the idea comes down to an early form of feudalism that we got away from a long time ago.
Let’s talk frith. Back in the olden days, you had to have scores of relatives, friends, and whomever else in your Inner-yard because, quite frankly, the world was a dangerous place (it’s still dangerous, but not quite that level in Western societies) and if you didn’t have allies close at hand, you had everything taken from you by force. Warfare was common back then, and it was the equivalent of living in street gangs, but without police to really turn to. It’s no surprise that I likened the Inner-yard to the Mafia in the Godfather. Hels Bells, where do you think the Sicilians learned this behavior? Try the Norse and the Normans. There’s a reason why there are red and blond Sicilians.
“But Tyra,” you say, “we’re using frith to mean a safe space for our family and friends.” I would argue that that’s fine, but be aware it is much different than the historical frithering something or other. Yes, it can evolve over time — I’m not as pedantic as some — but change the term. Tell us what it is. “Safety,” “Safe space,” or whatever. You’re using an anachronistic word here.
Frith, like many things, is conceptually an attractive idea, but in the end really offers a lot up for abuse of power. People swear fealty to that particular lord and support him. Peace (lack of warfare) occurs between members, though there are always disagreements. Basically, you trade your loyalty for protection. Feudalism, to sum it up succinctly.
I grew up in a Frith-type household. It sucked. Not because of any physical abuse (although I could make the case for verbal abuse), but because there were things you never went to the Utanngarth over. And quite honestly, there should have been more Outer-Yard interaction. There were too many “secrets” that shouldn’t have been, and too many issues that later on caused problems that could have been addressed early on and avoided.
By the way, the Heathens of old weren’t the only ones who had the concept of Inner/Outer-Yard. That concept is alive and well with the Japanese and other Asian ethnicities. In fact, the Japanese have one set of words for family members that are only used among family members versus a more formal set of words for “outsiders.” In many ways, Heathen culture mimics Japanese culture and Shinto: concept of inner/outer yard, ancestor worship, local kami/wight worship, female sun goddess, highly ritualized ceremonies with drink, warrior class which required fealty for protection, thegns/daimyo…I could go on and on.
I can see Frith being used as an excuse to hide addictions, sexual abuse, law breaking, and other terrible things, because it’s all too easy to insist on loyalty for “protection.” Look at how feudalism was abused. Look, our ancestors thought it sucked enough to get rid of it. Now, I can hear the recons arguing with me on this. Guess what? I don’t give a shit. The fact that it CAN be abused, suggests it WILL be abused. Power, my friend, corrupts.
What About Troth?
Being a follower of Tyr, I do have some thoughts about Troth. You may guess by my crazy blog posts I tend to be a little on the brutally honest side. Being honest and forthright is best, In My Not So Humble Opinion (IMNSHO), but I am quick to avoid oaths. Oaths are solemn things, and yes, the gods will hold you accountable to them. So, swearing loyalty, except maybe in marriage, scares the bejesus (heh!) out of me. Fail that oath, and you’re dealing with an ugly situation both here and in the afterlife, such as it may be. Plus pledging Troth to anyone in terms of fealty, takes us right into the (not so) good-old-days of feudalism.
So, Where does that Leave us?
By now, I can feel all the recon rage. Look, I really don’t care if you frither and troth all you want. I get the concepts, and I get you want to go back to the Bad Old Days. Or maybe you think you can do a better job incorporating them into your family, kith and kin. Far be it from me to tell you how to live your life, as long as it doesn’t affect me. I’m not saying don’t respect your elders, and don’t respect your family, but families aren’t perfect, and no matter how much you’d like your Hof, Kindred, or whatever you call your group to be, to be perfect, it isn’t going to be that way.
I’d argue too that our Inner-Yard versus Outer-Yard has grown substantially. One could make the argument that our Inner-Yard encompasses our community, our state, or even our nation. I haven’t gone so far as to say it encompasses our world, but maybe if we discover other life forms, that might be a real possibility. (Someday, I’m going to write something about if Thor is on other planets, but this post is long enough.)
Anyway, use frith and troth around me, and I’ll laugh. If for the silliness of the words, if nothing else.