It’s been about six years since Tyr and Thor first entered my life as Norse gods and I’ve entered Heathenry. (Tyr has been in my life for years, only I didn’t recognize him.) I’ve been thankful they’ve done so because they’ve offered a a new perspective on my life that I had not gotten any other way. I still deal with a number of really stupid issues due to Christianity that I brought with me, but I can feel a certain amount of healing going on that I just didn’t have with the other religions, and lack of religion.
This piece is a reflective piece, but it is also some advice I have for new Heathens and those who are still on the path after a number of years. This is my perspective, as always, and as I often say, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) or, as a professor once tried to guess the acronym, Your Mouse Might Vomit.
Moving into Heathenry from Christianity
Heathenry, and in fact, Paganism, isn’t really about rebelling from Christianity (or another religion), though you may go through a period of comparison and outright hostility toward your previous religion. I know I did. It’s that part of your bruised ego when you finally realize that everything you were told as a child was a lie and there is no Christian god. (Even if you believe there might be a Christian god, you can’t possibly believe it is as powerful as the Christians claim.)
Now that you have your newfound beliefs, it may be tough to not stick them in other people’s faces. But what exactly are you hoping to accomplish? Are you looking to alienate your friends and family, because you’re sure not going to convince them to convert? It’s better to not say anything and keep the peace than it is to rile everyone up. Of my family, only my husband knows I’m a Heathen, and as far as I can tell, he’s good with it. Of course I don’t rub it in his face, either. If he wants to remain an atheist agnostic, that’s his choice, and I respect that.
Heathenry isn’t Christianity with Many Gods
Heathenry isn’t Christianity with many gods instead of one god. While Christianity had adopted many pagan beliefs into their doctrine, it still isn’t what a Heathen believes. Christian states that man was given mastery over the world and all animals. This is clearly hubris, in my not so humble opinion. Heathens look at ourselves and our gods as being part of the natural world. We are just one species in a realm of natural and supernatural creatures. We recognize where we are in the world and how we need to be mindful of those creatures, both seen and unseen.
Whether you are agnostic on the supernatural critters like me, or whether you believe in them is irrelevant. It is part of our lore and deserves at least some attention, if not outright acknowledgment. If anything, our ancestors’ beliefs and stories make for some fascinating reading.
No One Has the Right Answers
I’ll say it right up front that those who claim to “know” how Heathenry should be is full of shit. Sure, we have some good ideas how some of our ancestors practiced Heathenry, but overall, we don’t have a perfect picture how to reconstruct it. The problem is that Heathenry covers at least a thousand years, if not more, and the ways our ancestors practiced Heathenry varied from generation to generation and from region to region.
Although there were gothis and gythias, there were no Asa-popes telling people how to behave, and if there were one or two, they wouldn’t have affected all of Heathendom. While there may have been a major temple in Uppsala, the archaeological evidence for it is scarce. (Even if a Christian church were to be built on top of it, you would think there would be some evidence.)
Moving Forward Instead of Looking Back
Heathenry is an ancient religion with deep traditions. I won’t argue with you there. We don’t know all the traditions, and those that we do know about were written down by people of other religions, who may or may not have had their own agendas. Ancient historians are not infallible.
Even if we somehow magically figured out everything about Heathenry in the ancient times, would we really want to mimic it? If you say “yes” then apparently you want to bring back human sacrifice, and that makes you a total loony tune, crazy person that I want nothing to do with. And yeah, that’s one of my rules: no human sacrifices. There are other behaviors we should not mimic — not if we follow our own version of the ethics of reciprocity.
Heathens need to look forward, not back. Our past can give us guidelines for our future, but they’re just that: guidelines. The past was not only a different time, but humanity saw things differently. We didn’t have the technological advancements, longevity, medical treatment, and overall knowledge about the world then that we do now. It would be foolhardy to live in the past without accounting for the future.
Well, I’ve rambled enough. Let me know what you think.
How I Feel About This
I understand why the atheists do this. Street Epistemology uses logic to foster doubt in irrational beliefs people hold dear. They allow the interviewee to make their case and then gently tear it apart when it is shown to be illogical. It is a friendly discussion, but its intent is to foster doubt. Far be it for me to say avoid them. They actually give us a good reason to examine our beliefs and why we believe what we do. As Heathens, we often pride ourselves with our “homework” and the antiquity of our beliefs. Some of us–yours truly included–have had UPG and contact with deities. Talking with atheists do not necessarily make us atheists. It simply helps us define what we believe and why. If you don’t know why you believe something, other than faith or a gut feeling, you should probably define why you believe what you believe. And quite honestly, if you decide you don’t believe, that’s okay, but for reasons other than you think.
The Heathen Gods Don’t Need Us
Unlike the Judeo-Christian religions, our gods really don’t give a damn if we follow them or not. (Okay, maybe they care a bit, but not the way the Christian god purportedly does.) I’ve been told several times now by Tyr and Skadi that it really doesn’t matter what I believe, if it is my destiny to do something, I will do it. (You gotta love the Wyrd, there.) Science may agree with this assessment of free will. In a block universe, everything has already happened. We are just moving forward in time because that’s how we perceive things.
The Heathen gods really don’t need us to worship them. They’ve existed quite fine without us for some time, but since we inhabit a world they deal in, they do deal with us, at least in their elemental nature. They like dealing with us because they’ve “created” us or at least put the entire mechanism of evolution into creating us. At least, that’s how I understand them. Having doubt in your belief system is okay because it fosters further study and research. And in a way, talking with someone using Street Epistemology is probably a good thing. It focuses our minds on what we believe and why. If you actually get to talk to a person who is questioning our beliefs, use it as a learning experience and not a way to get into a fight. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” to someone who asks pointed questions.
Asking Questions and Getting Answers
So, I looked at Street Epistemology and considered the questions asked. Why do I believe in what I do? In many cases, the religious types responded that they believed that their religion is the right religion because 1. their parents taught them their faith, 2. they believe the Bible/Koran is 100 percent infallible, 3. their god purportedly saved them in an accident or some other dire situation, or 4. they have “faith” in their god.
I thought about the question of why I believe what I do, and my answer was “none of the above” to the answers the people whom they talked to gave. My parents taught me Roman Catholicism, and I saw inconsistencies in the Bible from the start. I certainly don’t believe that the stories our people wrote down (including those in the Eddas) are completely accurate. No god ever saved me from an accident, as far as I know — those accidents I’ve been in, I got my own butt out of them, or someone else helped. If an all-powerful god really wanted to help me, I wouldn’t have been in the accident in the first place. As for faith, I have very little of it when it comes to believing in something I can’t see. That’s why my belief in the Heathen gods is rather odd. My answers are a bit more flexible, which would probably drive those performing Street Epistemology batty.
Challenge Your Belief in the Gods
If I were approached by a Street Epistemologist about my Heathen faith, the question of how much I believe in my faith would probably be around 70 percent. That leaves a fair amount open for questions. Why? Because the moment you go into lock-step dogma, the more someone is manipulating you rather than you thinking for yourself. I know, it’s a radical idea for a religion and a religious person, but there you go. If you think you’re always right and your religion has all the answers, you’ve lost your ability to think critically. And that, my friends, is the difference between wolves and sheep. A wolf may follow a pack, but in the end, the wolf still uses its brain to make decisions. Sheep, on the other hand, follow the herd. Which one do you think is more likely to be slaughtered for dinner at the end?
The next question would probably be how I came to my belief. My guess is that my answer would send the interviewer packing, since it sounds fucking crazy. I mean, how do you explain that you were contacted by not one, but two, gods? Yeah, yeah, there are enough of us who have gotten a call, but seriously? Assuming the interviewer wasn’t fleeing for his life, he would ask how I knew it wasn’t just delusional. I’d say, “Bro, why do you think I’m at the 70 percent mark?”
As I’ve said before, you should challenge your belief in our gods and come up with logical reasons why you believe. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up like the people you see in those videos who just state that it’s faith and nothing else. While that may be good enough for you, it isn’t logical or well-defined. And makes you look like an idiot.
Nothing is 100 Percent Certain
As Heathens, we know that not everything is 100 percent certain. We know that there is possibly more to reality than what we can currently measure, and science backs us up when it comes to other dimensions. We know different dimensions might be the mechanism our gods use, along with basic quantum physics, but we are just guessing. For all we know, there could be nothing more, something more, or something we haven’t postulated yet. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” and accept that if we were presented with facts which contradict our beliefs in the gods, we would have to go along with them. Or we could consider another explanation as to why we still believe in the gods and why the information is not a contradiction.
I’m reminded of an old Enterprise episode where this race of people sent their bodies into another part of reality. They believed that the bodies would return to life and live happily in their newfound paradise. Only, they didn’t. They sat on a moon and rotted. The news was so horrific to the inhabitants that they could not accept the truth and disavowed all ideas that something could be different. In the end, the Enterprise crew did pick up energy readings that circled the moon. The implication was that maybe these people did indeed “live on” in the form of energy.
Our Beliefs May Change
If you don’t want to be a Luddite, you’ve got to accept that your belief system may change. Look at our ancestors’ beliefs. We know that the Earth is really not a Frost Giant’s body. We know that the Earth is not the center of the Universe. We know that our Earth is very old, and the Universe is older still. Our ancestors did not know this.
Those who insist that we not only reconstruct the ceremonies and beliefs, but stay mired in them are idiots. Heathenism must grow to suit our knowledge and modern sensibilities. Nowadays people can live to more than 100, with an average US life expectancy of a little over 78 years. Consider our ancestors in Viking times. They were lucky to make it to 50 years old (which was considered advanced old age), with a third dying in childhood. It would be accurate to say we’ve doubled the life expectancy. Thus, our experiences are vastly different than our ancestors. It’s cool to study them and learn the lessons they learn, but we must fit our beliefs into our modern times. No, I have no desire to return to an age where I’d already be dead, where disease ran rampant and I have none of the conveniences of modern day. Hel, my electric stove gave up the ghost the other day and while I made do, the next day I had to get a new one. I do NOT want to spend my time cooking on a hearth.
Anyway, I hope you’ve found some of these ideas enlightening. Let me know what you think.
Well, the Rational Heathen has been trolled by a Christian, who either is terribly misinformed, or just a troll. Christians, he believes, converted barbaric Heathens peacefully. According to him, Heathens were just mass killers and rapists. Now, if that got you bristling, good. Here are the facts behind so-called peaceful Christians and barbaric pagans.
Before I get started, let me point out there were so many instances that they just don’t fit in a single
post. So today I’m just going to talk about forced conversions and just touch on the witchcraft trials and other lovely situations like burning at the stake. If you’re really interested in the background behind my assertions, (and the gory details–literally), that’s going into a premium post which you can access for just $1.
Let’s Talk “Peaceful Conversion”
Let me point out that Christians were exceedingly barbaric once they got into power. From Constantine on, both sides of the Roman Empire (East and West), began systematic elimination of pagan practices, most which were punishable by death. Pagan temples were regularly looted and closed by the government. While there were a few emperors who turned a blind eye to pagan traditions, others would come along that would close pagan temples and colleges, loot the temples and strip the priests and Vestal Virgins of their pay, and outlaw sacrifices to pagan gods which would cause the practitioner to be put to death. Another interesting practice outlawed with the death penalty as punishment was reading the entrails of fowl or sheep to predict the future. Constantine looted temples; his successor, Constantius II carried on a crusade against pagans. Eventually Theodosius I made paganism illegal and many Jews as well as pagans were forced to convert or suffer loss of their possessions, buildings, or even their lives.
Desecrate Sacred Places
Pope Gregory I knew there were still pagans among the Christians who practiced their own religion in secret. To crowd them out, he decreed that the Church should take over their sacred glens, grottoes, caves, and mountains and put Christian altars and relics there. The idea was to remove all pagan symbolism and to establish it as being Christian and not pagan. You can probably imagine how the pagans felt seeing their own holy areas desecrated in such a fashion.
If you’re a Christian, imagine how you might feel seeing your church replaced by a pagan temple and you’ve been told that the pagan gods are the only true gods, and that you can’t worship your god there. Wow. I bet that just blew your mind. Never mind that Heathenism doesn’t do that, nor do most pagan religions, but think about it. What if you could not worship your god and if you did, be put to death? Yes, there are some countries that treat Christians badly, but imagine this was across the world as you knew it: the Roman Empire.
In Fear for One’s Life and Freedom
Once Christianity took hold, Christians were just as barbaric to pagans as the Christian troll stated the pagans were to Christians. In many places, a Christian owning Christian slaves was forbidden, but it was a-okay for Christians to own pagan, Muslim, or Jewish slaves. (Now, granted the same was true with other beliefs: Muslims generally would not own Muslims, Heathens would usually not own Heathens, etc. As long as you were of the “other,” castrating you and sending you into slavery was just fine.) The Vikings had a huge slave trade economy, but then so did the Italians, the Muslims, and other faiths. Eunuchs were big business and there were special eunuch houses designed just for that purpose.
If that isn’t enough to make you shudder, consider Charlemagne. During the Saxon wars, he forced the Saxons to convert and those that didn’t were put to death. The Massacre of Verden saw the death of 4500 pagan Saxons alone because they refused to convert.
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
After Spain drove out the Moors, the rest of the non-Christians were forced to convert or be executed. They then had to endure the Spanish Inquisition which tortured and put to death many of the forced converts who were under suspicion of practicing their former religion in secrecy. It’s estimated that about 30,000 to 50,000 people were burned at the stake in a 300 year period by the Inquisition alone. If you confessed to your “sins” you would be strangled before being burned to show mercy. Either way, dead or alive, you were going to get torched. Remember, these are the followers of the so-called “Prince of Peace.”
Burning Witches and Other Horrid Practices
Now, whether you want to split hairs about whether the people burned were heretics or whether they were actually pagans is pretty immaterial. Burning at the stake was a common method of “saving” people’s souls. I ran into one site that claims in the 16th and 17th centuries about 200,000 people were burned to death just for witchcraft. That’s pretty horrible. Now, granted not all of them were pagan or claimed to be witches, but these were people who died horrible deaths. Oh, and I saw some statement that burning was considered different than being immersed in boiling liquid. (Death by boiling.) Fuck that shit. Christians were cruel.
I’m not saying our Heathen ancestors were lily-white either. But those who live in glass houses should never throw stones.
If you’re like me, chances are you have Christian relatives who celebrate some form of the Christian holiday of Easter. If you’re the only Heathen in your family, you may get an earful about what is considered the most holy time that Christians celebrate. Still, unless you’re looking to cut ties with your family–and I don’t recommend that–you may be looking for ways to enjoy the Easter celebrations. If you’re a Heathen who loves to get into fights with family members over Christian holidays, or at least not willing to put aside your differences for one or two days, this post isn’t for you.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can get involved with minimal headaches.
Put Your Pride on the Back Burner (or Don’t be an Asshole)
Unless you have an extremely open-minded family/extended family, most of them are going to take a dim view of you not being Christian. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. They’ve been indoctrinated into the Christian belief system, and it’s unlikely you’re going to change their minds. You’re going to the Christian hell, and that’s all there is to it, (unless they can persuade you into the fold/back into the fold), and they really don’t get why you would worship pagan gods. At this point, all you can do is grit your teeth and hope to get through the Christian talk without losing your cool.
That being said, understand that this is a Christian holiday, even if they took on the pagan trappings surrounding it. Easter is considered to be more important to the Christian religions than Christmas, so realize that you are the outside here. It is you who is extended the olive branch, not them. So, don’t expect for them to understand/accept you being Heathen in their most holy time.
Because this is their most holy time, mentioning the appropriation of Eostre’s holiday at the Easter dinner is probably not going to do you any favors. Yes, they eat ham, which honors Freyr, but let it slide. Yes, they decorate eggs. Yes, they associate chicks and bunnies with Christ’s death and resurrection, but pointing out the incongruity of it all won’t cut it. If we want to maintain the peace in our celebrations, it is better to sit and listen rather than fight a foolish battle. This is their Easter–not ours, so let’s respect their religion, just like we’d want them to respect ours.
So, What Can You Enjoy?
At this point, you’re wondering what you can enjoy out of Easter. There are a lot of cool things you can do and still be part of the Easter celebration. Here are some of the things I recommend.
We color eggs for springtime, so there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy coloring eggs with your Christian family. Talking about spring and its renewal, as well as the cycle of life, is fairly safe.
Easter Egg Hunt
Why not hold an Easter egg hunt? Put together some of those plastic eggs and fill them with goodies. Hide them and watch as your family searches for them. You’ll all enjoy it.
Chicks and Bunnies
Whether live, toy, or simply drawings, the images of chicks and bunnies are pretty much safe territory. You may want to talk about the Oschter Haws which was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers. Avoiding the Urglaawe references, your Christian family may be delighted to learn that that’s where the Easter bunny who laid colorful eggs came from.
Easter candy originates from clever marketing by candy makers in the 19th century to capitalize on an untapped market. There’s no reason for you to mention this, nor is there any reason why you can’t have some yummy candy in pagan symbols such as rabbits, chicks, and eggs.
Easter Brunch or Dinner
Never turn down a good feast, even if it’s in honor of a god you don’t follow. All the trappings are Heathen, or at least, pagan, so enjoy spending time with family and friends. You may want to even bring some mead so your family may enjoy something a little different than the traditional grape wines. Toast to your family and to those family members who are no longer with you. You’ll be honoring the ancestors and still not offend your family.
Talk about Family, both Present and Past
Speaking of family, strike up a conversation about your family and your ancestors. Talk positively about them, or if someone in the family knows a particularly good story about an ancestor or a relative who is alive, encourage them to relay that story. As the good Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.”
Listen to Your Family, Even if You Disagree with Them
If your family starts talking about Christianity, listen to them. You don’t have to agree with them, but when they tell you about their faith, they tell you about themselves. Ask questions. Ask why they believe what they believe, and don’t argue with them over their beliefs. You may discover that your mom believes in the Christian god because she finds comfort in a god who promises to care for her. Or your dad might actually not believe in the god but goes to church because the family does it. Or maybe your cousin is an atheist at heart. You can learn a lot about your family just by listening.
Go to Church with them
This suggestion is somewhat dangerous when it comes to family, not because you’re likely to change your faith, but more likely because you may offend or get into an argument with a family member. Some Christians, most notably Catholics, have rules against participating in sacraments such as the Eucharist (the bread and wine) because they believe you must be of their denomination to participate. (It has to do with transmogrification, but that’s another long post.)
Why go to church with your family? Well, first it puts you on the same page as your family members so if they discuss the sermon, you know what was said. Secondly, you can see Christianity with all its pagan influences. Third, churches often have amazing artwork that is worth seeing.
Just sit and watch as they go through sitting, kneeling, and standing routines. Listen. It may seem worthless, but in a way you are gathering intelligence about this religion. That way, you understand your family’s behavior a bit better.
Take Time Out for Our Gods, Wights, and Ancestors
I’ve given you ideas for keeping the peace with your Christian relatives. But this isn’t about Heathenry, it’s about keeping the peace in your extended family. Before you join in the Easter festivities, make an offering to the gods, especially Frigga and Frau Holle, the wights, and your ancestors for a peaceful gathering. And thank them after the day for their help, especially if things went successfully.
Hopefully, I’ve given you ideas for staying sane around Christians during their holiday. If, in the end, you do decide to try out some of these ideas, I’d be interested to learn how they worked out.
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