Why I Call Myself a Heathen But Maybe Shouldn’t

Look through my backlog of unread blog posts here on my week off before summer session starts, I found these:

Why I Am Not a Heathen (Though I Kind of Wish That I Could Be) and Why I Am Not A Heathen 2: What Can You Do?

This is an issue I struggle with a lot myself too. I’ve taken the, “I’ll just call myself a Heathen anyway” approach right now, but I may change my mind in the future. Let me look at some of the points Pagan Church Lady brings up:

Using the Havamal as a basis of your morality

I think the Havamal is cool. Hey, I’m an Odin’s woman, so I have to, right? But I do think that people that use the Havamal as some kind of scripture are doing that because of Christian baggage. Just like the various book of the Bible, the Poetic Edda, including the Havamal, need to be taken in the proper context. The Havamal is a poem written in a particular time period from a particular point of view. We need to remember that we don’t live in the Viking Age anymore. We also need to remember our gods, unlike the Christian God, never claimed to be perfect, and that includes Odin, and we don’t actually have to obey or listen to every single thing he says.

I know some folks might disagree with me on that last point, but I really think there’s nothing wrong with thinking a god is wrong about some things. Assuming the gods are perfect and mindlessly obeying them is a monotheistic thing. If there are some misogynist things in the Havamal, keep in mind that this was written down by a misogynist culture, and hopefully either the humans writing it down misunderstood what Odin meant, or Odin himself has changed his mind since then.

Lore vs. UPG

I think “The Lore” is just the “UPG” of people who lived a long time ago. It’s useful to know about, but if you assume that the gods are real, then it would make sense that people would learn more about them over time. It’s also possible that the gods themselves change over time, and therefore we need to update our knowledge of them (see above about Odin and misogyny). Most Heathens I’ve met seem OK with some ideas that have become basically modern lore, like how Thor likes coffee or Freya likes chocolate, offerings they would never have received back in Viking times. They just want to make sure people know what is modern and what is ancient.

“UPG” does have some problems. It especially troubles me when various people’s UPG’s directly contradict each other (maybe that’s a leftover from my atheist days). But without UPG all we have is a religion from a thousand years ago frozen in amber like that mosquito from Jurassic Park.

Hating on the Wiccans

This seems to not be as bad as it used to be. Around these parts, Heathens have a big presence at Pagan Pride Day and at pagan festivals. There seem to be more and more Heathens who really don’t mind being included under the neopagan umbrella, and I haven’t heard “Wiccatru” thrown around as an insult for a long time.

Modern Heathens ARE Neopagans under Issac Bonewits’s definition, and I think it’s a good definition. I like words to have precise definitions. You can’t say you’re not a neopagan just because you don’t like some things that some neopagans do.

It kind of reminds me of those Christians who love to hate on Muslims, even though as far as I can tell, Christianity and Islam are extremely close. They’re probably closer to each other than they are to any other religions. That seems to just make them hate each other more.

Is this a Religion or a Getting Drunk and Dressing Up Like Vikings Party?

Oh my gosh, I could write a whole rant about this! I have met a bunch of Viking wannabes at various events, and it does really annoy me. SCA is not a religion. Hitting your friends with styrofoam swords is not a religion. It’s so silly, and is why a lot of outsiders don’t take us seriously.

It’s the Heathen version of Wiccans who think Wicca is all about dressing up in goth clothes and pretending to be spooky Halloween witches. I think people who do things like this will eventually get bored and go on to the next hobby, and hopefully leave us serious people behind.

You Need a Community

It’s totally unrealistic to expect all Heathens to be a member of a kindred to be legit Heathens. There just aren’t enough communities around for all Heathens to find one they click well with. And some people are just more social than others. But I’ve never heard anyone saying you can’t be a solitary Heathen, just that isn’t not as good as being in a community. And that may be true. I have no idea since I’ve never been in a kindred before, and don’t see that happening any time in the near future either.

I know for sure I’d rather be a solitary than be in a kindred that I don’t fit in well with.

Racist Bullshit

I’ve already written whole posts about this, where I compared Folkish Heathenry to Young Earth Creationism. I still think it’s a very good comparison. Both are folks basing their religion around a scientifically falsified idea. That’s just never a good thing to do.

Now I’m going to add a couple of other things Pagan Church Lady didn’t mention that also bother me:

You have to be a Republican (or at least a Libertarian) to be a Heathen

I still run into this a lot. I started on this path when the Iraq War started those many, many years ago, and was told if you are a Heathen, and especially if you follow Odin, you have to be in favor of going to war with Iraq. I thought the war was a terrible idea from the beginning, and the idea that Odin was in favor of such a terrible idea made me try to get away from him.

Now that pretty much everyone knows that I WAS RIGHT TOLD YOU SO, being a Libertarian has come into fashion, so now they can be against the war (but were silent back when I TRIED TO WARN YOU PEOPLE), but still be against social security, medicare, environmental regulations, SNAP and WIC, the Civil Rights Act, public schools, etc. And then of course in order to be a good Heathen, you have to agree with that. That’s the part that bothers me.

I still don’t understand why I’m disqualified as being a Heathen if I vote Democrat. Just look at the politics of Sweden or Norway. Democrats are conservative by their standards. (They are by my standards too, but they’re kind of the best we’ve got here.)

These folks are the Heathen version of “if you are Christian, then you have to be against gay marriage and abortion.” Lots of Christians are OK with gay marriage and abortion, and now I know how they feel. Liberal Christians exist. Liberal Heathens also exist.

We Aren’t a Nature-Based Religion

I named my blog “Heathen Naturalist” to piss these people off. I’ve already written a post about how I think that viewing nature as sacred and being a polytheist go hand-in-hand, and how I think “worshiping the gods and NOT nature” is a monotheistic thing. I don’t think our ancestors had that sharp division, and I think the main reason Heathens go on and on about this is because they want to distance themselves from those icky Wiccan hippies.

I know a lot more about nature than most Wiccans do. Our pre-Christian ancestors lived completely immersed in Nature, and I think a lot of our modern problems have come from us trying to separate ourselves from Nature. Part of that separation is from the monotheistic idea that God gave us dominion over Nature. I don’t know of anything in Heathen lore that says humans are the most important thing in the universe like it says in Judeo-Christian lore.

So Am I A Heathen Or Not?

I think I have more spiritual beliefs in common with Native Americans, the African Diaspora, and Shinto than I do with Southern Baptists, except that I’m white and a cultural outsider to those communities. What is a white animist and polytheist supposed to do? The most sensible thing to do seemed to be to worship deities from pre-Christian Europe.

However, a lot of Heathens I’ve met seem to be Southern Baptists who just substituted Odin for Jesus and the Poetic Edda for the Bible. It’s especially noticeable to me since I was never a Christian to begin with. Christian-like thought patterns like a huge emphasis on scripture and a separation of the divine from nature just don’t make sense to me.

There are plenty of Christians who aren’t Southern Baptists (or Quiverful, or Young Earth Creationists, or Dominionists), and they probably feel a similar way as I do. Some of them quit calling themselves Christians entirely and go be quasi-Christian Unitarian Universalists or Quakers or something like that. Others keep calling themselves Christians and just try to be an example of how Not All Christians Are Like That. That’s basically the situation I’m in with Heathenry.

Well anyways, that’s my little rant about that. I’ve been struggling with this question for the entire time I’ve even known that Heathenry existed, so I doubt it will go away soon. Sometimes I really do think I should just give up the Heathen thing entirely, when it seems like I’m the only Heathen in the world who does it the way I do it.


3 thoughts on “Why I Call Myself a Heathen But Maybe Shouldn’t

  1. One of the most useful/satisfying things I’ve learned from people who read much more historical stuff than I do is that there was no single “heathenry” back in the old days, there were many many many different ways people did things – which means there is solid historical reason for many different people today to call themselves “heathen” even if it looks nothing like that lore-thumping, poorly informed Viking dress-up, conservative narrow-minded stuff that, apparently, passes for “real” heathenry in too many places.

    I’m still not likely to call myself a heathen, but I feel smug about the fact that I could, and point to history to support doing so, despite how different my practice is from all the One-True-Wayists who would think I’m the equivalent of a demon-worshiper ruining all the nice things. (Calling myself a heathen while doing what I do would be satisfying just on the chance it would make that lot uncomfortable, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it just for spite, LOL.)

    I follow so many liberal/far-left heathens and Norse polytheists that I’m a little surprised about the conservatism you’ve run into, but on 2nd thought, it’s not surprising at all :\

    • Yeah… if you’re not comfortable calling yourself a heathen, I think that’s completely understandable. I just wish it wouldn’t be that way, and “heathen” was a much broader term that encompassed all sorts of people. After all, being a “Christian” can range from Liberation Theology to Dominionism.

      I hope modern paganism in general will eventually grow out of this phase, but I might not still be alive by then.

  2. You’re a Heathen. At least you were when you wrote this post. I’m still in your archives. What better way to capture the spirit present in history and much of the lore than to question and seek wisdom? You are an inspiration. I confess being terrible at identifying trees, and many bird songs in my own local area. I do know and feel deeply a connection with the many rivers and streams flowing through this area. We are known as the River Valley. My journey into Heathenism came through magic and Runes. I was as turned off and stunned as you by all the extreme right wing racist lore thumping bullshit running rampant in American Heathenry.It wasn’t until I discovered elhazablaze.com and Chaos Heathenism that I knew I was on the right track. It was the first time I knew I wasn’t alone. That was back in 2007. I assure you that you’re not alone. I urge you to fly your Heathen flag. There shall be factions, differing tribes, denomination even, among Heathens just as any other large umbrella of a term. I’ve had the benefit of getting to know your voice through your writing in a couple days. You have a wonderful spirit and a beautiful mind. I would stand with you as a Heathen any day.

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