Morality, This World, and the Next

Some years ago I wrote a post about the heathen concept of morality. I was always dissatisfied with it, and felt I should have developed it more. Recently, I have done so.

Heathenry is unusual amongst modern religions in that it does not offer anything like a “meaning of life.” The gods do not really have a greater purpose for us, nor is there anything like a “divine plan.” The gods created us, not because they wanted us to do something in particular, but because creating life is something that gods do. They have standards of behavior that they approve of, and things that they disapprove of, but they do not give humankind a code of morality that they are expected to live by regardless of the real world circumstances they face. They are willing and sometimes eager to help us better ourselves, but they do not reward or punish based on who and what we are.

This no doubt sounds odd and even disturbing to the followers of more mainstream modern religions. These religions tend to see morality as something with a divine origin, forced onto an unwilling and amoral humanity from above. “Without divinely-given moral codes,” they argue, “people will fall into chaotic, evil, amoral behavior.” “And without fear of divine judgment,” some of them add, “there is nothing to make people engage in good behavior.“ Such a lack of divine meaning, purpose, and guidance, these people believe, means that there is no meaning or purpose in life. It leads to nihilism, they say, and to personal lives, families, and civilization itself falling apart.

There are some problems with this view, however. When a religion is centered around a god offering rewards in the next life in exchange for suffering in this one, it incentivizes people to live for the next world, and to abandon this world. It leads to a toleration of suffering and evil because of the expectation that everything will be made right in the next world. When good behavior is motivated solely by fear, it is not really goodness. It is just an imitation of goodness, an act with no more meaning than the tricks of a dog who expects a treat for performing them well, or who fears a beating for failing to do so. This kind of worldview encourages people to be false, and dishonest. It also encourages them to do no real work on their character or understanding of morality, because a premium is placed on the appearance of goodness rather than truly being good. It encourages a mindset that does not like taking risks, preferring security and comfort instead. It encourages a dissatisfaction with physical life, as the attention is turned to the next life. It promotes an attitude of intolerance, and preoccupation with appearance over substance.

When people who are raised in such an environment lose their religious faith, the worldview that faith gave them must inevitably turn toward nihilism of a most unhealthy sort. If some god was the only basis for morality and you no longer believe in or follow that god, then there must really be no morality after all, and no real good or evil. The belief in divinely-appointed morality and divine judgment set up exactly this kind of black and white dichotomy.

The heathen gods show us a more nuanced view of the world, however, and I think that this is one of the greatest strengths of the heathen religion. The gods constantly fight against the forces of chaos and destruction as personified in many jotnar and wights such as the Fenris wolf and the Midgard Serpent even though the gods know that they will eventually and inevitably be defeated by them at Ragnarok. Despite knowing that they and the universe are doomed, and that ultimately nothing that they or that anyone else does will matter, they fight anyways. They know that it is better to keep struggling to win than it is to surrender. They do not see a higher purpose, yet they do not surrender to despair or nihilism.

Instead, they go the route of what is sometimes termed anti-nihilism. They know how cynical and pointless and cruel the world is, and decide that that means they have to create their own meaning and values and to stick to them tenaciously, heroically, no matter the odds. They know how pointless and unrewarding life would be if you didn’t.

And, by example, they teach us to do the same.

We heathens, because we do not bother with divine codes of good and evil, concern ourselves with much more practical considerations when it comes to making moral decisions. We have a single, simple, utilitarian standard to apply: who does the proposed action help, and who does it hurt?

This single standard makes for some very interesting consequences. For one thing, it makes people be concerned with the real life consequences of their actions. It makes them have to try to do genuinely helpful things or at least avoid genuinely harmful things. This standard does not allow for any moral weaseling of the sort that divine codes of good and evil do. It does not allow one person to harm another with the excuse that it is for his own, ultimate good as determined by some alien, divine code of behavior. The harm cannot be counterbalanced by some greater good that will supposedly be done someday, in the future, in another life and another world. It encourages us to care about THIS world, and the real things that happen to real people.

The other thing that this utilitarian heathen standard does is encourage the creation of an individual set of values, by each and every one of us. Because values do not objectively exist, the determination of how to judge help and harm can only be made by a person who has created their own system of values. This encourages intellectual engagement with the world, and with philosophy, and the higher functions of the mind. It encourages the development of a sense of personal responsibility. This can lead to a much stronger society, one that is engaged with the world instead of withdrawn from it, one that is concerned with personal development, one that has a strong sense of personal responsibility. It can lead to a society that is fully and vibrantly alive, instead of waiting until after death to start truly living.

This is the most significant gift that I think that heathenry has to offer the larger world around us. An approach to morality, values, and meaning that is grounded in this world.

***

Now for the necessary disclosures. Those who paid attention in, or took, philosophy class will recognize that some of what I write above is similar to Nietzsche[i]’s ideas about morality, the Ubermensch[ii], and the Last Man. That is because I also took philosophy in college, and inevitably read Thus Spake Zarathustra. I did indeed find myself influenced by some of his ideas. Our religion is a reconstruction. The ancients, thanks to their stupid oral traditions, did not leave a lot of their beliefs or philosophy explained for us. So we modern heathens have to interpret the fragments we have in terms of our modern understandings, and this is how I interpret them. I think the similarity is not solely due to that, however. Nietzsche was a German philosopher whose thoughts sprang from a tradition of beliefs that is distantly rooted in the ancient heathen ones. It makes sense that the ancient beliefs would find a good expression there in some ways.

Here are the lessons I have learned from the example the gods have set, and from understanding that there is no objective meaning or purpose to life, and no objective morality:

  • There is no point in clinging to pain. Let it go when you can.
  • Don’t fear loss and pain. They are unavoidable. Use them.
  • Don’t always take the easy way.
  • Accept things as they really are, and do not try to fool yourself into believing either wishful thinking or pointless pessimism.
  • Enjoy good things when they come your way.
  • Don’t cling to good things when they pass from you. It just leads to more pain.
  • Endure suffering when circumstances make you suffer. Don’t whine about it, even to yourself. Use it.
  • Is it a big deal? No, it almost never is, really.
  • Be selfless when you can. Things are more pleasant all the way around that way.
  • Be fair and just, but temper those things with kindness. No particular reason why you should, objectively, but subjective counts for a lot. Why not try to make the world a better place?
  • Never expect a reward. You probably won’t get one anyway, so why be petty and set yourself up for disappointment? Instead, learn to get value out of your own good deeds, for yourself.
  • Try not to be an enormous #^%$#. The world’s unpleasant enough as it is. Why make it any worse?

These ideas seem no worse to me than anything commanded by one of the divine-fiat religions. The heathen gods have taught me to think for myself, and to make my own rules. They have taught me that there is no real meaning or point to life, and they have also taught that that just means that I am free to make up my own. After all, if there is no objective meaning to anything, then any meaning you can come up with is at least no more invalid than any other.

***************************************************

[i] No, Nietzsche was not a Nazi. The Nazis tried to pervert his message to their own ends, but he is actually on record as saying that, if it were up to him, he would have all anti-Semites rounded up and shot.

[ii] Bonus nerdy digression: Well, it is really only sort of similar to his concept of the Ubermensch. He did indeed believe that the Ubermensch would reject divinely inspired morality and concern with the next world, and create their own system of values that would be concerned with bettering the physical world. However, he seems to have believed that the Ubermensch would be a singular being, a person who not only did these things but had such a connection with the rest of society that he could transform it.

Extra bonus nerdy digression: Then again, you could interpret all that stuff he wrote about eternal recurrence as meaning that the Ubermensch was simply an ideal or template that, in a perfect society, everybody would follow. I dunno. I long ago gave up pretending that I really understood Nietzsche.

I mean, the guy’s writing was pretty freaking rambling and incoherent.

Advertisements

A Temple in Iceland

Well, it looks like the Folkie Fool Brigade is at it again. This time, they’re going after Icelandic heathens. The Icelandic heathen group Ásatrúarfélagið has recently announced plans to build a temple in Rekjavik. To true heathens, this sign of our people’s resurgence in the modern world is a reason to celebrate. A bunch of Folkies in America and Germany, however, have seen it as an opportunity to show the world what incredible douchebags they are.

You see, Ásatrúarfélagið seems to actually try to practice their religion. You know, be actively involved in the world and address modern issues informed by the wisdom of the gods and the ancients. As such, they are outspoken proponents of LGBT rights, and they have also come out against animal sacrifice. Both things seem to have upset the Folkies, who are far more concerned with trying to control other people’s private lives and fighting a lost culture war than actually being heathen. In a vain attempt to make themselves the Popes of the heathen world, they have threatened to come to the new Icelandic temple and vandalize it if the Icelandic heathens don’t start doing what the Folkies tell them.

So I wish to publically reach out to the Icelandic heathens and wish them well in their dealings with these fools. I wish them to know that real American heathens are not like this. We simply go about our business of living our own lives and practicing our own faith. I wish to explain to them who these people really are. They are not heathens. They are not even religious. They are a sad bunch of socially conservative hatemongers who are terrified of the progressive changes that modern culture over here has been experiencing. They have merely hijacked the symbols of our faith to use as a rallying point for their dying cause.

Good luck building your new temple, my brothers and sisters. Wes thu hal.

Journal Article Published

I recently got an article published in Walking the Worlds, an academic journal of polytheism and related issues. This issue was about building regional cultus in a modern context. That is to say, about how polytheistic religions change from place to place to incorporate local religious foci. Ancient polytheistic religions such as heathenry often had different local deities for different lands and even for different towns. Every article in this issue discusses how such practices fit into modern polytheistic religions.

My article discusses how the ancient heathens incorporated local sacred rocks, trees, and spirits into their religious practices. It describes the modern local cult that has grown up around the Lobsterman statue in Portland Maine, and how it has been incorporated into local polytheistic worship.

The issue is also filled with a lot of other great articles by renowned pagan authors. To order individual issues or subscribe to the journal, go to their website.

Getting Started

When I first came to the heathen path, some twenty years ago, it was very difficult to know how to get started. Back then, before the Internet was much of a thing, you had to search the local bookstores and hope you got lucky if you wanted to find any useful information at all. You might be fortunate enough to find a local group of pagans that included another heathen, if you lived in the right area, but this was probably too much to hope for. Many heathens back then had to make their way on their own, without much guidance from others or from quality books. (Thanks to Llewellyn Press, there were unfortunately a lot of useless and worse than useless books, though.)

Today, things are much better. There are a lot of resources online. There are many heathen groups that modern heathens can go to for help. That does not always make it easy for new heathens to know how to get started, though, because there are now so many voices that it can be difficult to know who to listen to. To help with this problem, I will share here the way I got started on the heathen path.

  • Read the primary sources, the Eddas and the Sagas. These are the oldest written records of what the ancients believed, so they are the best source for understanding the ancient ways. No amount of reading what other people have to say about these works will tell you as much. If you can, read multiple translations, to get a better sense of the original meanings. You must also remember: these stories were recorded by Christian scribes. While they were attempting to preserve a historical record of a vanishing era, there were parts of heathenry they liked, and parts they didn’t like. Because of this, they skipped a lot of things, like goddess lore. What we have left are more the beliefs of the ancient heathen warrior caste rather than the entirety of ancient heathen belief. Helpful hint: read the Hollander translation of the Poetic Edda. It not only retains the original meanings best, it keeps to the ancient poetic form pretty closely too.
  • Pray often. Nothing will bring your mind and spirit closer to the gods than regular prayer. Begin each day with the prayer from the Sigrdrifumal, that begins “Hail the day, hail day’s sons….” Make the sign of the Hammer over every meal, and say “Hammer, please hallow this food to my might.” This is an ancient blessing. Make the sign of the valknut over alcoholic drinks. This is a more modern blessing, but it fits.
  • Make a traditional altar. The ancients used piles of stones for altars, and poured offerings over them. River stones would be most appropriate.
  • If you are devoted to a particular god, do work that advances the god’s goals. An Odinist might write poetry, for example, or practice the martial arts, or join the armed forces. Someone devoted to Bertha or Perchta might weave.

Just following these practices is a good start. After a couple of years of such practices, you should start developing an idea of how to go further.

Wes thu hal. May the gods bless you.

The Real Vikings

Vikings: giant, hairy manly men who rarely bathed and made most of their money by raiding other countries. The society of the Vikings was a heavily male dominated one that was heavily insular, worshipped strength and viciousness above all else. It was a society where might made right, manners were unheard of, and intellectuals were derided as wusses. Right?

Wrong, actually. Dead wrong. About as far from the truth as it is possible to get, as a matter of fact. The picture painted above describes only the modern, popular culture image of Vikings, made by people who never cracked open a history book in their lives, but did read a lot of comic books and pulp fiction. The real Vikings were far more complex and interesting than that. They were also surprisingly modern in many ways.

To start with, Viking men were peacocks. They wore fancy, bright colored clothing and covered themselves in jewelry. They bathed a lot by European standards of the time. They combed their hair and styled it. They styled their beards too. In fact, hair styling was so important to Viking men that combs are a very common find in their graves. Can’t go to the next world with messy hair! Viking women tended to be much more plainly dressed, and not as given to ornamentation. The men were definitely the display gender.

Vikings only rarely went viking, or pirating, which is what the word means. The Viking Period was actually only a tiny fraction of the history of the people commonly called Vikings. Even at the height of the Viking Period, most Viking nations made 60% or more of their income from the manufacture and export of textiles. That’s right: not only were the Viking economies never driven by Viking raids, they were actually mostly driven by women. Most of the time, Viking men preferred to farm. Raiding was only undertaken under desperate circumstances, when the crops and economy were so bad that their families might starve. As soon as there was any other choice, they stopped raiding. Although all men and most women were expected to know how to fight, most men were not warriors.

In fact, not only were the Viking economies dominated by women, by their societies tended to have a strong feminist bent. Nowhere in the ancient world were the rights for each gender nearly equal. Make no mistake, they were still tilted in favor of men, but women were closer to achieving full social equality with the Vikings than with any other ancient culture. They had absolute right of divorce, could own property, lead families, and even serve in government. In the home, a wife had more authority than her husband, at least theoretically, by custom. Women were actually considered to be inherently more in touch with the spiritual than men, and were often highly influential as advisers and prophets. The female deities were actually seen as stronger and more capable than the male deities in many ways. Every time Odin goes up against the will of Frigga, for instance, he loses, for all that he is the god of victory. It is from goddesses and human women that Odin gains the bulk of his power and knowledge, not from other males. If one of the gods wants to be able to fly, they must go to a goddess, Freya, for that power. If they want to keep their immortality, they must receive it from Idunn, another goddess.

Why, then, are modern images and stories of the Vikings and their gods so dominated by warrior-themed, male oriented stories? Simple: the stories were recorded by Christians. The Viking traditions were oral. The only reason we have anything written down is because of Christian scribes, after the Vikings were conquered. The heavily patriarchal Christians particularly hated the goddess lore, and stories centered around women, so they simply didn’t write much of that down. All we have left now are fragments and hints of the original, much wider body of lore, but what we do have points to a much more gender-balanced picture.

Nor was Viking society insular. Popular depictions of the Vikings show them cut off from the rest of the world, stuck largely in their own. Many ill-educated people, particularly Folkies, even depict this supposed isolation as being the result of a powerful cultural racism. This picture, however, does not match what history shows us. The Vikings had colonies as far off as North America and Africa. They had trade relations with Greece. They, as mentioned above, made most of their money from trade with other nations. They were actually a well traveled people.

And not only were they well traveled, they were in many ways downright cosmopolitan. They were well aware of other religions, other ways of looking at the world, and they loved them. Real Vikings enjoyed the experience of interacting even with cultures radically different from their own, and adapting elements of those cultures that they took a liking to. One Viking king put “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet,” on all of his coins, in Arabic. He was not a Muslim, but he did have trade relationships with Muslim nations, and admired their culture so much that he wanted to imitate some of the trappings of that culture. Upon meeting the Greeks, there is reason to suspect that they adopted major aspects of Greek religion, including changing their male deity of fate to three female deities, like the Greek Fates. Upon encountering the Romans, they adopted many of their titles and forms of government. Bronze Age Denmark was the social and artistic capital of the known world.

This cosmopolitan attitude toward the world was reflected in Viking philosophy. They adopted a remarkably rational perspective about religion and human knowledge. The Vikings saw the world as vast and mysterious, and did not seem to think that any one person, or any group of people either, for that matter, could have absolute knowledge of The Truth. They did not view their religion as the result of divine revelation. They did not assume that it accurately described the whole of the world. They conducted their affairs like they believed that other people, other religions, other ways of looking at the world, were also potentially valid. They knew theirs was not the only way. Not only did they adopt elements of other religions, they would even take part in foreign religious ceremonies when traveling to other lands. This practice was so extensive that the early Catholic Church even had a special rite, called Prime Signing, that allowed visiting heathens to go to Church when in Christian lands.

In some ways, the Vikings were so open minded and accepting in their world view that they even make modern nations look backward and repressive by comparison. Archaeologists in England have found a statue of a one-eyed god, clearly Odin, with both male and female genitals. Although modern Western nations are only just beginning to address issues of transsexuality, the ancient Vikings were comfortable enough with it that they ascribed a transsexual nature to their chief god. This does not mean, by the way, that the Vikings were completely accepting of trans people, or homosexuals, or other non-standard forms of sexuality and gender identity. They still had their issues. They were, however, comfortable enough with them to have an open and recognized place for them in their world view.

The Vikings were a truly fascinating people. The world has changed a lot since their day, and heathenry itself is in many ways a completely different thing. But still, were an ancient Viking somehow brought forward to this day, he would not entirely find himself a fish out of water.

We Have To Have Standards

Right-wing leaning heathens tend to hate me because I value other religious and spiritual traditions, and many different points of view about our own traditions. Left-wing leaning heathens tend to hate me because I insist on maintaining standards, and not automatically putting every other belief on par with my own. Certain perennial debates have recently surfaced again in the larger pagan community, leading me to think that it’s time to remind the more strident and knee-jerk left-wing types why they dislike me.

We need standards, people. I respect that everyone has the right to their own beliefs and opinions. I believe that even beliefs and practices that I personally find ridiculous can contain genuine worth and even insight. These things do not, however, mean that all beliefs and practices are themselves worthy of my respect. I have a right to my own beliefs and opinions too, including the opinion that this or that idea is really freaking stupid. People have the right to believe any damnfool thing they want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend it isn’t a damnfool thing to believe.

There is a fair amount of mysticism of one sort or another in the heathen community. Seidh workers, berserkers, thules, godhis, and more practice some sort of communion with the gods or lesser spirits. Many private devotees experience a divine presence in prayer, or have their prayers answered through omens or revelatory experience. This is, after all, where the concept of the UPG (Unusual Personal Gnosis) comes from. This is a good thing. The ancients were a very spiritually oriented people, and wide embracing of the spiritual in daily life means that we are finding their ways again.

This does NOT, however, mean that any and every claim of mystical experience should be given equal weight. Any and every culture that uses a spiritual practice of one sort or another has very strict standards about what did and did not qualify as a genuine mystical experience. We need such standards as well. Because frankly, we’re drowning in drivel. So let me here offer what I think are a reasonable set of standards, mostly cribbed from those of traditional mystically-oriented cultures and supplemented by my own experience.

How To Spot Fake Mysticism

1) Actual historical mystics have experiences of speaking to gods, visiting other spiritual realms, and communing with spirits only after years and years of difficult, rigorous, and even dangerous training. Did you learn to travel to Asgard after a weekend seminar? You’re a fake. Did you set yourself up as a seidh-worker after a week-long intensive? Then you’re full of $&!^. Have you been studying out of Llewelyn books on your own for a year now? You may have some talent, but you don’t have the skills to be claiming anything, Buddy.

Yeah, yeah, there are powerful natural talents who don’t need training. But such people are VERY RARE. They are the Van Goghs of the spirit-worker world. You seriously claiming you are THAT good? Ha. And double ha.

Look at Vodoun. Vodouisants regularly have spirit-possession experiences. However, not every devotee has one, and even then, it is considered only to be possible with large, well-trained groups working in unison. Are you seriously trying to claim that you alone are more powerful and knowledgeable than every Vodouisant ever? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

2) Actual historical mystics, even the powerful and talented ones, have such experiences only rarely. The Buddha is held to have been visited by a particular god THREE TIMES in his entire life. And this was taken as proof of the Buddha’s great spiritual power and enlightenment. Even when everything is set up just right in a Vodoun ritual, even highly experienced horses cannot expect regular experiences. Even the greatest of heathen heroes have been visited by their gods only a few times in their lives.

Do you claim that you are more enlightened than the Buddha? Do you expect us to believe that you are more talented than each and every Vodouisant in the world? You think you are so much more awesome even than Sigurd the Volsung that Odin is in your social circle? Go away child, grown-ups are talking.

If you claim your practice lets you speak to the gods at will, if you blog about your spirits sitting down to watch TV with you every night, if you claim to get infallible answers from the Outgarths at will, then you are a fake. You are impeding both heathen progress and the overall progress of the human race.

3) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is THE gold standard of every traditional spiritual practice ever. Including ancient heathenry.

The ancient berserks claimed to become possessed by spirits under certain extraordinary circumstances. Not just anybody could demand that their claim to being a berserk be taken seriously, though. They had to demonstrate enhanced strength, reflexes, and combat ability. They had to demonstrate GENUINE fearlessness (think about what that meant to a Viking). They often had to perform extraordinary feats, such as fire resistance.

Seidh workers couldn’t just claim the honor of the title, they had to produce results. As in, actual relevant answers to questions, solutions to problems, etc.

Vodouisant horses claiming to be ridden, or possessed, have to demonstrate the actual presence of one of the lwa. After all, a god should be able to demonstrate miracles, so a claim of possession is only validated when the ridden one chews glass, resists fire, has hot pepper extract blown into the eyes without flinching, etc.

Tibetan Bon shamans have to demonstrate such feats as drying wet towels draped around their bodies while naked in the snow in sub-zero temperatures using only body heat.

You say you talk to the gods? Prove it. Put up or shut up. A person who claims such advanced spiritual powers and knowledge can back those claims up with actions. A person who can’t is a fraud, a buffoon, or both.

4) Actual successful spirit work requires constant practice. The mental state that is required is not at all easy to get into, even with a lot of experience. It requires maintenance with serious, regular devotional practices that involve a lot of time and effort. One sure-fire way to spot a fake mystic is if they have the free time to post daily blog entries about themselves and their supposed spirit work, or if their spirit work consists of watching TV while thinking earnestly about them. If you have such abundant free time then you probably aren’t doing it right.

5) If the gods look and act exactly like you expect them to, and if they reinforce the things you have already decided to believe, you are not having spiritual experiences. What you are experiencing is called “the imagination,” and everyone can do it.

Real mystic experiences are transcendental. They leave you in tears, or laughing maniacally, or passing out from the sheer overwhelming SUCHNESS of everything. They blow your preconceptions away. They force you to see things as they are whether you want to or not, and they constantly challenge your beliefs about yourself, the world, and the nature of the gods themselves.

6) Do you talk constantly about your experiences? Do you constantly demand validation of your experiences from others? You’ve had no experiences. The true spiritual experience is powerful and personal, and the person experiencing it almost never feels like sharing it. It is far too personal, and difficult to put into words. A person who has had a genuine spiritual experience KNOWS it, and does not seek to have everyone affirm that it was genuine.

7) Anyone who has become a god-spouse to Loki shortly after one of the Marvel Thor or Avengers movies has come out is a fake. This also applies to any other works of popular fiction that use names or images of gods and spirits.

It is possible for someone to hear The Call through such a medium, yes. But it is not bloody likely. In general, such characters are fictional characters used to tell a story. They usually bear no resemblance whatsoever to the actual god or spirit portrayed.

Look at Marvel Loki. He has NOTHING in common with the actual Loki from the ancient stories. Marvel Loki goes into a lovely hammy speech about the evils of freedom. Actual Loki is all about freedom. He may even be THE god of freedom. Marvel Loki betrays his kin. Actual Loki pranks his kin and betrays outsiders, but does not betray kin who have not betrayed him first. Marvel Loki is an enemy of Asgard, actual Loki is an agent of Asgard. So to all you Marvel-inspired Loki spouses: you don’t know a thing about Loki.

We need to have standards when it comes to spiritual experiences in this religion. If we don’t then the traditional ways of personal and spiritual development will be hijacked by people who are deluding themselves, lying, or even essentially LARPING. There is a lot of value in the old ways, the spiritual approach to life. Anyone can benefit from it, anyone can take up the spiritual path. However, not everyone will succeed. Worth proves itself. Heathens believe that deeds are more important than words. Those who genuinely have something of worth to add to our spiritual lore will prove it. Those who will not are not worth listening to.

Post Script

And speaking of standards, I wish to add a word here about religious standards apart from spiritual practices. Not everybody who says they practice our religion does. We need to be open to other beliefs, other points of view, yes. But if these points of view are radically different from the traditional ones, then they are not representative of traditional beliefs. Humanist heathens, and chaos magicians, and especially xaos magicians, are not heathen. They believe that they can believe anything they like about the gods and heathen ideals. They believe that worshipping the gods is nothing more than building up thoughtforms in the head. These people will, for instance, worship Marvel Thor and demand to be taken seriously by traditional heathens.

They have a right to their beliefs. It is a valid enough spiritual tradition of its own. However, it is essentially atheist, and not in any way heathen. They are free to use our images and names, they are part of their heritage too. But this does not mean that they have the right to be considered actual heathens.

Frith and Faith

My grandmother recently passed away after a long battle with a variety of illnesses. As a devout Lutheran she disapproved of pretty much everything I believe and do, but was respectful and classy enough to keep it to herself. As I am 3,000 miles away from her funeral and wake, I wanted to hold a minni for her. (In case you are not heathen, the minni is the rite of remembrance, something like a religious ritual and a wake combined.)

This presented me with something of a dilemma. I had spent the last few years living with her and helping to look after her, and wanted to do something to honor her and find closure on that chapter of my life. However, she would not want heathen prayers said for her, the intercession of a heathen divinity, or any suggestion that she might even theoretically be involved with such things.

So I compromised. I did not ask for Odin to ferry her safely to the other side. I did not ask any heathen god to bless her. I did hallow the ritual space by the Hammer, and asked Odin’s blessing over the ritual drink. Then I offered my grandmother traditional toasts, speaking memories of her life and the ways she had affected me, such as introducing me to the runes.

It is a strength of the heathen religion that we can respectfully accommodate other religions, other views of the world, while remaining true to our own. During our time together I often had to alter my practices or my speech in order to accomodate her beliefs. Just as she did, in her own way, for me. It was not an imposition, it was a matter of respect, of frith. Wes thu hal, Mimi.