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.